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Open Thread, September, 2010-- part 2

3 Post author: NancyLebovitz 17 September 2010 01:44AM

This thread is for the discussion of Less Wrong topics that have not appeared in recent posts. If a discussion gets unwieldy, celebrate by turning it into a top-level post.


Comments (858)

Comment author: Will_Newsome 23 September 2010 12:36:20PM *  32 points [-]

Condensed Less Wrong Wisdom: Yudkowsky Edition, Part I

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions

  • Ask "What experiences do I anticipate?", not "What statements do I believe?"
  • Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. If you are equally good at explaining any outcome, you have zero knowledge.
  • The strength of a model is not what it can explain, but what it can't, for only prohibitions constrain anticipation.
  • There's nothing wrong with focusing your mind, narrowing your categories, excluding possibilities, and sharpening your propositions.
  • For every expectation of evidence, there is an equal and opposite expectation of counterevidence.
  • You can only ever seek evidence to test a theory, not to confirm it.
  • Write down your predictions in advance.
  • Hindsight bias devalues science: we need to make a conscious effort to be shocked enough.
  • Be consciously aware of the difference between an explanation and a password.
  • Fake explanations don't feel fake. That's what makes them dangerous.
  • What distinguishes a semantic stopsign is failure to consider the obvious next question.
  • Ignorance exists in the map, not in the territory. If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my own state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself. A phenomenon can seem mysterious to some particular person. There are no phenomena which are mysterious of themselves. To worship a phenomenon because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance.
  • What you must avoid is skipping over the mysterious part; you must linger at the mystery to confront it directly.
  • You have to feel which parts of your map are still blank, and more importantly, pay attention to that feeling.
  • When you run into something you don’t understand, say "magic", and leave yourself a placeholder, a reminder of work you will have to do later, and one that prevents an illusion of understanding.
  • Much of a rationalist's skill is below the level of words.
  • Avoid positive bias: look for negative examples.
  • If a hypothesis does not today have a favorable likelihood ratio over "I don't know", it raises the question of why you today believe anything more complicated than "I don't know".
  • If you don't know, and you guess, you'll end up being wrong.
  • You need one whole hell of a lot of rationality before it does anything but lead you into new and interesting mistakes.
  • Never forget that there are many more ways to worship something than lighting candles around an altar.
  • Why should your curiosity be diminished because someone else, not you, knows how the light bulb works? Is this not spite? It's not enough for you to know; other people must also be ignorant, or you won't be happy?
  • The world around you is full of puzzles. Prioritize, if you must. But do not complain that cruel Science has emptied the world of mystery.
  • Inverted stupidity looks like chaos. Something hard to handle, hard to grasp, hard to guess, something you can't do anything with.
  • Saying "I'm ignorant" doesn't make you knowledgeable. But it is, at least, a different path than saying "it's too chaotic".

A Human's Guide to Words

  • http://lesswrong.com/lw/od/37_ways_that_words_can_be_wrong/
  • If you're trying to go anywhere, or even just trying to survive, you had better start paying attention to the three or six dozen optimality criteria that control how you use words, definitions, categories, classes, boundaries, labels, and concepts.
  • Everything you do in the mind has an effect, and your brain races ahead unconsciously without your supervision.
  • Logic stays true, wherever you may go,
    So logic never tells you where you live.
  • Before you can question your intuitions, you have to realize that what your mind's eye is looking at is an intuition - some cognitive algorithm, as seen from the inside - rather than a direct perception of the Way Things Really Are.
  • Definitions don’t need words.
  • Words do not have intrinsic definitions.
  • Playing the game of Taboo - being able to describe without using the standard pointer/label/handle - is one of thefundamental rationalist capacities.
  • Where you see a single confusing thing, with protean and self-contradictory attributes, it is a good guess that your map is cramming too much into one point - you need to pry it apart and allocate some new buckets.
  • Categorizing has consequences.
  • People insist that "X, by definition, is a Y!" on those occasions when they're trying to sneak in a connotation of Y that isn't directly in the definition, and X doesn't look all that much like other members of the Y cluster.
  • Just because there's a word "art" doesn't mean that it has a meaning, floating out there in the void, which you can discover by finding the right definition.
  • The way to carve reality at its joints, is to draw your boundaries around concentrations of unusually high probability density in Thingspace.


  • Reality is laced together a lot more tightly than humans might like to believe.
  • Since the beginning not one unusual thing has ever happened.
  • Many philosophers share a dangerous instinct: If you give them a question, they try to answer it.
  • If there is any lingering feeling of a remaining unanswered question, or of having been fast-talked into something, then this is a sign that you have not dissolved the question.
  • If you keep asking questions, you'll get to your destination eventually. If you decide too early that you've found an answer, you won't.
  • When you can lay out the cognitive algorithm in sufficient detail that you can walk through the thought process, step by step, and describe how each intuitive perception arises - decompose the confusion into smaller pieces not themselves confusing - then you're done.
  • Be warned that you may believe you're done, when all you have is a mere triumphant refutation of a mistake.
  • Those who dream do not know they dream, but when you wake you know you are awake.
  • One good cue that you're dealing with a "wrong question" is when you cannot even imagine any concrete, specific state of how-the-world-is that would answer the question.
  • To write a wrong question, compare: "Why do I have free will?" with "Why do I think I have free will?"
  • Probabilities express uncertainty, and it is only agents who can be uncertain. A blank map does not correspond to a blank territory. Ignorance is in the mind.
  • Hug the query.

Joy in the Merely Real

  • Want to fly? Don't give up on flight. Give up on flying potions and build yourself an airplane.
  • If I'm going to be happy anywhere,
    Or achieve greatness anywhere,
    Or learn true secrets anywhere,
    Or save the world anywhere,
    Or feel strongly anywhere,
    Or help people anywhere,
    I may as well do it in reality.
  • If you only care about scientific issues that are controversial, you will end up with a head stuffed full of garbage.
  • If we cannot take joy in the merely available, our lives will always be frustrated.
  • If we cannot learn to take joy in the merely real, our lives shall be empty indeed.
  • The novice goes astray and says "The art failed me"; the master goes astray and says "I failed my art."

I probably missed a lot in my cursory glances. I chose things based on no objective criteria. Sometimes I paraphrased, perhaps incorrectly. There are a few other big sequences to do.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 September 2010 12:53:27AM 9 points [-]

Please make this a post. It is is a valuable resource that I would like to have accessible.

Comment author: lessdazed 20 November 2011 07:35:32AM 3 points [-]

From video dialogues:

  • How do you know the costs of your irrationality if you're irrational?
  • We're here to talk about rationality, which is the art generated when you want something more than your particular mode of thinking
  • Well, if you expect the future to be just like the past, calling that "realism" isn't going to save you from the fact that you’re guaranteed to be wrong.
  • ...there are specific propositions, right? You can't just bundle all the propositions together and slay them with one mighty blow that consists of one thing you can do wrong if you believe this bundle of propositions.
  • Curiosity requires ignorance and the ability to relinquish your ignorance, and I see you attaching a lot of importance to your ignorance here.
  • This sounds to me more like a mistake you are making in your model of the world than something you could actually do to the world itself.
  • If you want a precise practical AI, you don't get there by starting with an imprecise practical AI and going to a precise practical AI, you start with a precise impractical AI and then go to a precise and practical AI.
  • You can make mistakes even if you think you have a precise theory, but if you don't even think you have a precise theory you're completely doomed.
Comment author: arundelo 23 September 2010 01:00:57PM *  3 points [-]

How do I get lists to work?

One thing you need is a paragraph break (a blank line) before and after the list. The source code should look like this:

*Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions*
* Ask "What experiences do I anticipate?", not "What
statements do I believe?"
* Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be
more confused by fiction than by reality. If you are
equally good at explaining any outcome, you have zero

[Edited to add italics to the subheading.]

Comment author: Relsqui 20 September 2010 08:07:28PM 17 points [-]

Would anyone else like to see a new demographic survey done? I'm interested in how LW's userbase has changed since the last one (other than, well, me).

Comment author: [deleted] 20 September 2010 08:08:40PM 6 points [-]


Comment author: DanielVarga 25 September 2010 01:44:38AM 4 points [-]

Yes. And please include the questions "Are you a male with very long hair?" and "Are you by any chance named Vladimir?", because we need more data to investigate some strange issues.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 24 September 2010 05:36:57PM *  15 points [-]

OkCupid thread, anyone?

I was thinking that those of us that aren't shy could share our OkCupid profiles for critique from people who know better. (Not that we have to accept the critiques as valid, but this is an area where it'd be good to have others' opinions anyway.)

If anyone wants to get the ball rolling, post a link to your profile and hopefully someone will offer a suggestion (or a compliment).

Also, I bet cross-sexual-preference critique would be best: which for most of us means gals critiquing guys and guys critiquing gals. But I realize the LW gender skew limits that.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 24 September 2010 10:26:35PM *  11 points [-]

I've never used any dating websites, but people who care about that sort of thing should note that the advice they'll get this way may have a very low, or even negative correlation with what actually works. I don't mean to say that people will consciously write misleading things -- just that, for various reasons, they may not work with a realistic idea of the thought process of those who are supposed to be attracted by the profile in question. To get useful advice, the best way to go is to ask someone of the same sex (and preferences) who has successfully used some such site to share their insight.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 September 2010 12:41:56AM 9 points [-]

the best way to go is to ask someone of the same sex (and preferences)

Definitely. It is often recommended to guys to focus almost exclusively on advice from other males rather than women until you have reached a level of understanding such that you can reliably distinguish between people talking about what the world 'should' be like rather than what the world is. Having a certain level of social presence also makes it more likely that people will refrain from trying to foist the rules for boys on you and actually give honest assessment's of preferenes.

Comment author: Yvain 24 September 2010 09:08:18PM 8 points [-]

I don't know who erisiantaoist is, but I cannot believe he actually started his profile with the "I am slightly more committed to this group’s welfare..." quote. If I were at all gay I would date him in a second just for that.

...although I am generally surprised at how anxious people in this group are to signal transhuman weirdness, especially transhuman weirdness that only one in a few thousand people would understand or find remotely sane. Do you really have access to such a high quality dating pool that you're looking for people who will be impressed instead of confused when you name-drop AIXI and state your intention to live forever?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 25 September 2010 03:49:30AM 14 points [-]

In my case I'm not looking for a transhumanist match: there are lots of really smart, interesting girls out there that haven't heard of transhumanism, and I have a lot more things to talk about than ethics. (Seriously, who talks about bioconservatism on the first date? Once a girl said on a first date, "There are so many books, it's the only thing that makes me really sad that I'm going to die." And I was like, "Oh, don't worry about that. We're not that far off from solving death, you'll be fine. I personally work on the problem; trust me, you'll have trillions of years to read your books." I was still able to get a second date.) I just do it because I think it's hilarious that I can come across as insane and still get girls by being relatively laconic. Social normalcy screens off epistemic oddity, to an extent. I'm not socially normal but I do an okay job at emulating it most of the time.

So those that would take inspiration from my profile, note that the nerdy parts aren't optimized for success. At all. I just like typing AIXI. AIXI AIXI AIXI AIXI AIXI...

Comment author: [deleted] 24 September 2010 09:13:57PM 12 points [-]

Maybe they're just sick of half-heartedly dating folks they don't click with.

I had a brief relationship with a nice boy who had never heard of most of the things I'm interested in -- he wasn't an intellectual type. Nothing against him, but it was surprisingly disappointing. After that, I thought, "Okay, in the long run I'm going to want a deeper connection than that."

Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 12:54:00AM 15 points [-]

Maybe they're just sick of half-heartedly dating folks they don't click with.

The first few versions of my profile were geared to show off how geeky and smart I was. This connected me to people who spent a lot of time playing tabletop roleplaying games, reading fantasy novels, and making pop culture references to approved geeky television shows, none of which are things which interest me particularly.

Eventually I realized that I am not actually just popped out of the stereotypical modern geek mold, and it was lazy, inaccurate, and ineffective to act like I was. Since then I've started doing the much harder thing of trying to pin down my specific traits and tastes, instead of taking the party line or applying a genre label that lets people assume the details. In that way, OKC has actually been a big force in driving me to understand who I am, what I want, and what really matters to me. A bit silly, but I'll take it.

Here's a question I've been pondering a lot: What are good questions to use to actually learn something about a person? (If you suggest "what kind of music do you listen to" ... you're fired.) If they're not the same for everyone, and I expect that they aren't, how do you find them?

Comment author: orthonormal 25 September 2010 07:07:28PM 8 points [-]

What are good questions to use to actually learn something about a person?

"What's something you believe, that you'd be surprised if I believed too?"

(I've yet to try this in a romantic context, but when meeting new friends it usually leads to a good conversation– the more so for ruling out first-order contrarian beliefs that they'd expect me to share.)

Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 07:44:23PM 2 points [-]

Oh, that one is excellent. I might try that on some of my current friends.

Although ... I wouldn't recommend using it on someone who dislikes debating or defending their beliefs (or on someone about whom you do not know that). If they're right, you have an immediate source of conflict which if taken personally could nip the new acquaintance in the bud.

Comment author: arundelo 25 September 2010 02:18:57AM 7 points [-]

I want to upvote this more than once.

For a while (a long time ago) I asked people "When did you first realize you were different?" Once a young woman I was on a date with said "But I'm not different"!

Comment author: [deleted] 25 September 2010 03:42:48AM 4 points [-]

Perplexed said something smart, but here are my drunk brainstorming ideas:

Do you believe in God? Why or why not? (people are usually willing to answer this, but they'll get offended in a hurry if you argue)

What experience in life have you learned the most from?

What was your favorite subject in school? Do you still follow it?

Do you think it's worthwhile to give to charity? Which ones? Do you give to them? (see God question caveat, and the last question is extra offensive if they have to say no)

What do you think about him? (Mention someone you both know personally or indicate a person who can't easily overhear)

What do you do when you don't have to do anything else?

Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 09:03:00AM 3 points [-]

I like some of those, particularly the last one--I've seen something similar, which was "what could you talk about for hours?"

I'm reluctant to ask "most," "least," or "favorite" questions, because almost nobody has good prepared answers, except to the trivial ones like "favorite color." Which is not an effective question for getting insight into someone's worldview.

Comment author: Alicorn 25 September 2010 03:06:55PM 3 points [-]

I like asking people what their favorite playing card is, and acting confused if they don't have one (but about half the time they either already had one or are willing to make one up to play along).

Comment author: [deleted] 25 September 2010 05:51:22AM 3 points [-]

I'm not completely in the geeky mold either. But if you literally take a random sample of young men in my area, I will not get along with most of them. There's some sense in filtering.

To learn about people, I usually get them started on their interests. It only really works for people who have interests (enthusiastic about a hobby or career) but do you really want to date someone who doesn't? I only feel I know someone when I know his personal philosophy, but that usually takes time to come out.

Comment author: Perplexed 25 September 2010 03:30:46AM 3 points [-]

Here's a question I've been pondering a lot: What are good questions to use to actually learn something about a person? (If you suggest "what kind of music do you listen to" ... you're fired.) If they're not the same for everyone, and I expect that they aren't, how do you find them?

I don't think that a prepared interrogation is the way to do it. Instead, I think you need to listen carefully to what is said in casual conversation ("What kind of music?" works fine!) and then ask followup questions to draw them out. Example: "You don't like country? Me neither. What is the thing about it that annoys you most."

Comment author: erratio 24 September 2010 09:24:43PM 5 points [-]

I would upvote this multiple times if I could. Having mostly non-mainstream interests sucks for dating.

Comment author: orthonormal 01 October 2010 12:35:21AM 3 points [-]

Remember, these profiles are selected from the pool of "people who link their OKCupid profile on Less Wrong, and ask advice of the LW pool".

Comment author: ata 24 September 2010 11:19:09PM 2 points [-]

...although I am generally surprised at how anxious people in this group are to signal transhuman weirdness, especially transhuman weirdness that only one in a few thousand people would understand or find remotely sane. Do you really have access to such a high quality dating pool that you're looking for people who will be impressed instead of confused when you name-drop AIXI and state your intention to live forever?

I admit that my profile does gratuitously signal transhuman weirdness... I'm okay with that not because I'm expecting a large number of people to be impressed rather than confused/repelled by that, but because I'm more interested in meeting the (smaller number of) people who are interested/impressed/okay with that.

Comment author: Alicorn 24 September 2010 06:21:05PM 8 points [-]

May as well... Me.

Comment author: Emile 24 September 2010 08:30:18PM *  8 points [-]

Great profile!

witty, + 5

sci-fi and singularity geek, +5

draws a webcomic + 5

wants kids, +2

degree in worldbuilding, awesome, +10

cooking, +3

vegetarian, -2 :(

likes fancy pretentious cheese, +1

I'm too old, live on another continent, and my wife is next to me right now, -50

Comment author: Apprentice 27 September 2010 01:22:51PM *  7 points [-]

Now, when I've read LessWrong in the past I've always thought to myself, "what a nice friendly community, populated by geeks like myself". But looking at all those profiles I'm amazed how outdoorsy adventurism seems to be a big part of your self-image.

SarahC "hiking and trail-running the Wasatch Mountains this summer was a blast"

Yvain "insane adventure ... mountain-climbing in the Himalayas"

mattnewport "Mountains make me happy. I love snowboarding and hiking on them."

Nisan "I love exploring" [pictures in exotic mountainous locations]

JGWeissman "I am an active member of the UCI Sailing Association"

Relsqui "You want to go do something with me. Ride bikes"

I've got nothing against mountains, I've even been up a few and enjoyed it. I'm not fat or anything, I even exercise semi-regularly. But if I were to make a profile like this it would never occur to me to emphasize those aspects of myself. Is this known to be attractive? I personally find these profiles intimidating. I would be more awkard and less comfortable meeting any of you after seeing those profiles than just after seeing your LW contributions.

To me, those profiles have a tendency towards coming across as perfect-and-a-bit-bland or goody-two-shoes, which is simultaneously intimidating (I'm not perfect) and not exciting to me. I like people that have some decadent, flawed or 'evil' aspects. Saying you have an evil sense of humor is something, but it's a bit non-specific.

Disclaimer: I married my high-school girlfriend. I have zero experience with dating or dating websites. I probably have no idea what I'm talking about. I would possibly be qualified to give advice about maintaining a successful relationship but I know very little about starting one. My tastes in people are also probably not typical, I have a fondness for the romantic and the mysterious - exhaustively detailed profiles are inherently something of a turn-off to me.

Edit: Rereading my comment, I think I hit the wrong tone. I meant to convey "There's something I don't understand!" but probably came across as "You're doing it wrong!". I don't expect OKC profiles to be optimized to appeal to me. For one thing, I'm not an American and probably miss a lot of nuance - for example I'm not sure that outdoorsy signalling has the same meaning in my country. (For another thing, I'm married.)

Comment author: [deleted] 27 September 2010 01:52:15PM 6 points [-]

Well, a lot of people like physical activity in a partner -- it says something about physical attractiveness, and also a sort of energetic outlook.

As for the predominance of outdoorsy activities -- honestly some of it is a class/culture thing, but so what. I've also noticed that there's overlap between math and mountaineering -- sort of the same kind of "coincidence" as math people liking Bach. Geeks tend to be drawn to physically demanding individual pursuits: running, climbing, cycling, and to a lesser extent weights. (Swimming ought to qualify but I've never met a lot of geeky swimmers.)

Comment author: Relsqui 27 September 2010 05:58:22PM 4 points [-]

I find it really interesting that I'm included in that, but I think I understand why.

I absolutely share your intimidation by really outdoorsy-oriented profiles. It makes me feel like the person would always want to be off doing things I didn't know how to do, wasn't fit enough for, or just wasn't interested in.

I don't place my mentions of cyclling in that category, for two reasons:

1) Bicycling as a primary mode of transportation is common among people my age in my city. Cycling isn't a hobby for me; my bike is my car. I rarely ride just for pleasure.

2) Because of the first point, dating another cyclist--or at least a bike-friendly person--is actually a practical matter for me. If I date someone who has a car and no bike, and we travel together, I'm relying on that person for transportation wherever we go, and cannot leave by myself if I want to. This is inconvenient at best, and potentially scary at worst. We could travel separately, but drastically different speeds make that a bit of a nuisance ... plus, traveling with my date is just nicer.

This is not to say that I wouldn't date someone who didn't use bikes for transportation. But it's easier, and if it's going to be an issue I'd like to establish that up front.

Besides ... it's a filter for the sorts of people who might think "Ugh, why are these stupid bicyclists riding in the road?! Don't they know it's just for cars?!" ;)

Comment author: Apprentice 27 September 2010 07:39:38PM *  3 points [-]

I absolutely share your intimidation by really outdoorsy-oriented profiles. It makes me feel like the person would always want to be off doing things I didn't know how to do, wasn't fit enough for, or just wasn't interested in.

You describe it well - I get tired just reading this stuff :)

Bicycling as a primary mode of transportation is common among people my age in my city.

I see - fundamental attribution error again. The true explanation is more situational than dispositional.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 27 September 2010 11:36:18PM 2 points [-]

Outdoors-adventure stories/pictures: I also enjoy such activities in moderation (e.g. I play beach volleyball several times a week), but doing so is seen as an attractive quality (evidence of "spirituality", health, attractiveness, willpower, etc. in comparison to the stereotypical couch potato or computer nerd). So you should expect people to sell that part of themselves to the extent that it exists in any quantity.

Comment author: Relsqui 27 September 2010 07:56:01PM 5 points [-]

Are you intending to make a top-level about this thread? I think there's some really interesting stuff in it: profile optimization techniques, whether and how you can glean advice from a statistical analysis of other peoples' results, and non-dating applications of learning to write a good profile (e.g. self-knowledge). I'd be interested in trying to distill the ideas into a useful post, but it's your thread, so I consider you to have right of refusal.

Also, to you or anyone else: agree/disagree that this subject merits a top-level?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 September 2010 12:26:29AM 3 points [-]

I haven't really followed the thread at all, but I grant permission to anyone to do what they want with it; it's their karma. I have a few LW posts that I'm already busy with for the next 5 days or so.

I believe you haven't written a post yet, Relsqui? I think you should do it. If you want, write a draft and set up a piratepad and link to it from here so that other people can contribute and edit.

Comment author: Relsqui 28 September 2010 04:35:31AM 3 points [-]

May well do; thanks. I have two more tests to study for this week (one down already), so, uh, it won't be today. But I'll see if I have time later in the week to assemble comments.

I've seen a few collaborative text sites mentioned here--etherpad, and now piratepad. Anything particular I should know about choosing between them, or just try 'em and see what I like?

Comment author: whpearson 24 September 2010 07:11:21PM *  5 points [-]

If people haven't you should read the OKtrends blog, especially about what makes a good picture (good quality camera etc).

Also a bit about what people are looking for dating wise would be useful. Generally that is too dull to put in the profile itself, but required for advice I think.

My profile is currently moth-balled, and not really designed to be attractive (I did get accused of being narcissus, which put me off making it more attractive). I found it horrendously addictive interacting with people and looking at the breadth of humanity and their hopes and dreams.

If not people are nosy, I will divulge my okc identity via private message. I am also quite happy to give out awards, if people want them. Or just look at your visitor list for the guy with the round blue sunglasses on.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 September 2010 12:08:50AM 6 points [-]

I like the OkTrends blog; the analysis is more casual than scientific, of course, but the content is stuff that I was really interested to learn.

Also, as a more general point, I think that non-scientific but enormous back-of-the envelope calculations (like OkTrends) are a good supplement to tiny but scientifically designed studies. If the big&sloppy approach and the little&precise approach give completely different results, that's cause for further investigation. Pre-Internet, we didn't have the opportunity to do that much big&sloppy statistics, except very crude things like the census; but today, I think it might be useful to double-check the results of small experimental studies (e.g. in medicine) with self-reported stuff from an enormous population sample.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 27 September 2010 05:51:09PM 2 points [-]

I agree with the big & sloppy point, but would also like to point out the parallel between the OkTrends blog and the Mythbusters.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 24 September 2010 07:14:07PM 6 points [-]

I and 100 others second the recommendation to read OKtrends: simple, frank statistical analysis. It's not the most useful information, but I was really surprised at their frankness when discussing touchy subjects: religion, race, attractiveness. They're very down-to-Earth in their analysis.

Also a bit about what people are looking for dating wise would be useful. Generally that is too dull to put in the profile itself, but required for advice I think.

Good point.

Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 12:03:50AM 3 points [-]

While OKTrends does contain a lot of interesting, well-explained, and often entertaining statistics, I would be very cautious about mentioning it in the same breath as anything to do with how to attract people. The folks at OKC can describe the kind of photos which get a user lots of messages--basically, pointing the camera down your cleavage if you're female, cropping your head out in favor of your abs if you're male--but a fat lot of good that does you if you have a small chest or a belly. (Or if you want to get messages other than "UR HOT WANNA GO OUT 2NITE.") Similarly, knowing that "vegetarian" is a first-message keyword which disproportionately leads to conversation is not all that helpful if you aren't one.

Relatedly, their data is collected from a large and surprisingly mainstream userbase; if LWers are as atypical as we say we are, very few of those users are going to be similar to whomever you're trying to attract. Maybe you know a geeky, intelligent woman who wouldn't roll her eyes at the headless ab shot, but I don't. If you don't believe that the target audience of OKC is very different from LW's readerbase, read the comments on any OKTrends post. They're not all inane, but ...

(I suppose I'm making the assumption there that LWers looking for dates are more interested in someone smart and with common interests than someone who relies on having tits to get attention. If I'm wrong, feel free to disregard.)

By the way, just in case you don't feel insecure enough yet, OKC claims to be quietly segregating its users by hotness. I've seen it theorized that that was a publicity stunt or a sneaky way to pull back inactive users, which seems quite plausible to me, but doesn't make the stunt any less scummy.

Don't get me wrong; I like and use OKC. Just remember that, no matter how clever and statistically sound their algorithms are, most of their data still comes from people who think that what checkout stand magazines say about people, dating, and sex is actually the gospel truth. The site's judgments are based on that standard. So don't take them too seriously.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 September 2010 12:27:36AM 7 points [-]

I suppose I'm making the assumption there that LWers looking for dates are more interested in someone smart and with common interests than someone who relies on having tits to get attention. If I'm wrong, feel free to disregard.

I have no problem with dates who are smart and have common interests and rely on tits to get attention. :)

Comment author: wedrifid 25 September 2010 12:25:44AM 4 points [-]

By the way, just in case you don't feel insecure enough yet, OKC claims to be quietly segregating its users by hotness. I've seen it theorized that that was a publicity stunt or a sneaky way to pull back inactive users, which seems quite plausible to me, but doesn't make the stunt any less scummy.

That seems to be a desirable outcome and one that I expect would be the natural outcome from applying statistical measures to interaction patterns. I expect and prefer OKC to provide matches that are most likely to lead to rewarding interactions. These do tend to be more likely between people of approximately equal hotness.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 September 2010 12:30:35AM 3 points [-]

cropping your head out in favor of your abs if you're male

Does that help? I would have expected leaving the head there to go with the abs would work better. If I see pictures of just breasts then I wonder what is being hidden (and aside from that find the expressions on a girls face and the style of hair to be potentially attractive.)

Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 01:18:09AM 4 points [-]

Does that help?

I thought they'd mentioned that in OKT once, but I just went back and looked and didn't see it. So maybe I made that up.

If I see pictures of just breasts then I wonder what is being hidden

Her personality. >_>

Comment author: [deleted] 25 September 2010 02:26:22PM 2 points [-]

As I recall, "body" as opposed to face pictures actually hurt your chances, statistically.

Comment author: luminosity 25 September 2010 12:57:45AM 2 points [-]

Interestingly, since receiving the mail saying I'd now be seeing hotter people in matches etc I have noticed a distinct fall in attractiveness of profiles to me, whether looks or profile based.

Comment author: mattnewport 25 September 2010 12:12:17AM 2 points [-]

By the way, just in case you don't feel insecure enough yet, OKC claims to be quietly segregating its users by hotness. I've seen it theorized that that was a publicity stunt or a sneaky way to pull back inactive users, which seems quite plausible to me, but doesn't make the stunt any less scummy.

I'm pretty sure it's some kind of stunt since I got that email. I'm curious why you think the idea is 'scummy' though? Given how skewed first messages are towards physically attractive women (the same effect doesn't seem to exist for men) it seems like some kind of mechanism for balancing this effect would be useful.

I've thought about a dating site where you have to 'pay' more (probably points of some kind rather than real money) to contact the most contacted people to try and reduce this effect but I'm not sure how you'd pitch it so as not to offend people. It would help counteract the trend for the hottest girls to be overwhelmed with messages and the average girls left receiving few messages though I think which could potentially be good for everyone.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 26 September 2010 10:21:59PM 3 points [-]

The author of that blog seems to give advice based purely on statistical correlation without making any effort to distinguish between correlation and causation. See this post for example.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 September 2010 06:50:49PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 12:58:35AM 3 points [-]

I moused over your photo thumbnails to see what whpearson was talking about and thought, "Man, who does that smile remind me of? Oh, it's Kaylee! That's a Kaylee smile."

And then I read the actual first line of your profile and cracked up.

Comment author: jacob_cannell 25 September 2010 04:11:05AM 2 points [-]

Unsolicited advice: Your third pic with the red dress is the best - but only 3? You could use a few more.

Aspartame is evil!

Ahh you and alicorn make me feel old. I would never have guessed so many people where were under 25.

Comment author: whpearson 24 September 2010 08:31:15PM 2 points [-]

I prefer the third picture to the first, although that may just be the clothing colours and fewer jpeg artifacts. You might want to crop the third to remove the plastic cups and extraneous people.

Other than that, I think you have a good mix of factual info to quirkiness in your profile.

You might think about re-ordering your categories of interests in terms of what is most important to you. If people are scanning then they might switch off after reading something that isn't so important (movies?) before reading something that is.

Comment author: thomblake 24 September 2010 06:56:25PM 2 points [-]

I didn't realize there were Lwers in the New Haven area; I should've expected that to change once school started up again. Tom McCabe is nearby too, I reckon. There should be a meetup, but I'm not allowed to organize those anymore.

Comment author: Kevin 25 September 2010 10:23:39AM 8 points [-]

By the power vested in me by the cult of CEV, I hereby grant you permission to organize LW meetups.

Comment author: mattnewport 26 September 2010 10:00:50PM *  12 points [-]

I was interested to see what discussion this post would generate but I'm a little disappointed with the results. It looks like further evidence that instrumental rationality is hard and that the average lesswronger is not significantly better at it than the average person without a particular interest in rationality.

I'm going to throw out a bunch of suggestions for things that I think a rationalist should at least consider trying when approaching this specific problem as an exercise in instrumental rationality. I anticipate that people will immediately think of reasons why these ideas wouldn't work or why they wouldn't want to do them even if they did. Many of these will be legitimate criticisms but if you choose to comment along these lines please honestly ask yourself if these are ideas that you had already considered and rejected or whether your objections are in part confabulation.

One obvious reason for not trying any of these things is that the issue is just not that important to you and so doesn't justify the effort but if you feel that way ask yourself how you would approach the problem if it was that important to you. I haven't tried all these things myself. I rejected some as either too much effort for uncertain return on investment or in some cases had ethical qualms about them but I think they are the kind of things that anyone serious about instrumental rationality should have at least considered.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me as something of a hobbyist photographer was the casual remarks that people are 'not photogenic'. It seems to me that the word 'photogenic' should be like a red flag to a rationalist bull. It should immediately trigger a desire to unpack the meaning of the word and figure out what objective properties of reality it is describing. In this context the next response should be to figure out what elements that contribute to this concept are most amenable to conscious, directed efforts to fix.

What people generally seem to mean by 'not photogenic' is 'the pictures I've seen of this person do not seem to reflect the level of attractiveness that they possess in person'. Presumably people who are 'not photogenic' are not made of some different type of material that reacts differently to light than photogenic people. The problem must either be a lack of good quality photographs or an issue with uncomfortable body language when being photographed. Both of these are fixable given sufficient effort. I get the impression that at least some people in the thread didn't take the relatively low cost steps of reading OkCupid's advice on this issue or used the tool they provide for determining the picture that works best from the ones you have available.

OkCupid provides lots of data on OkTrends about what traits are considered attractive, broken down by gender and in other ways. With a little bit of research on this topic it is possible to make a list of areas where you could increase your attractiveness to the average person of the age, gender, etc. you are interested in attracting. Some of these are hard to fix (it is difficult for a man to make himself taller or a woman to make herself younger) but others can be improved with effort and are worthwhile goals in themselves (losing weight, increasing your salary). Figure out what the best 'bang for the buck' improvements appear to be for your particular situation and goals and expend effort on them.

A/B testing is a standard approach to optimizing online material. With a little effort it is possible to apply this to an online dating profile. At a bare minimum you can track any changes you make and record statistics on what improves your results and what makes them worse. If you wanted to get serious about this you could generate multiple profiles in different cities with similar demographics to your own and run parallel A/B tests rather than serial ones (this is one of those 'ethical qualms' approaches I mentioned). There are all kinds of shortcomings with the data collected in this way and with properly controlling variables but if you're not collecting any data of this kind you are not maximizing the information you extract from the data potentially available to you.

While the data that sites like OkCupid make available is helpful there are lots of interesting questions that it doesn't provide answers to. This being the Internet you could gather some of this data yourself. If you want to know what your competition looks like you could set up a fake profile for the kind of partner you wish to attract and see what kinds of messages they get (those damn ethical qualms again). This approach is potentially scalable to generate quite large amounts of data.

So if we're all good instrumental rationalists why are we not doing these kinds of things? Well for one, they involve effort. Quite a lot of effort in some cases. Instrumental rationality is hard. If we're not asking ourselves these kinds of questions though we're not doing a very good job of instrumental rationality. How can we improve?

Comment author: Alicorn 27 September 2010 01:54:46AM *  7 points [-]

Presumably people who are 'not photogenic' are not made of some different type of material that reacts differently to light than photogenic people. The problem must either be a lack of good quality photographs or an issue with uncomfortable body language when being photographed.

The camera also adds (visual cues that make it look like it adds) weight, and messes with color. My best friend just got married and had lots of photos taken of her and her husband. He looks fine because he starts out skinny as a rail and his coloration works in the photos. But in the very same photos, she develops a blotchy complexion and her hair color looks unnatural and gross. And while she's not fat, the extra ten pounds on the glossy photo nudge her a little that way. Her body language looks fine in photos (and if she were tensing up, wouldn't she also look tense on video? Video of her looks much better), and the quality of the photographer or camera can't be the issue because in the very same photograph her husband looks exactly like himself in real life and she looks weird.

Comment author: mattnewport 27 September 2010 02:50:05AM *  6 points [-]

I don't know exactly what the problem might be with your friend's wedding photos but in general the problem of how to make people look as good as possible in photos is quite well understood. There's an entire industry devoted to doing it. I can list several technical errors that can appear to add weight or mess with color but these kinds of things are not unsolvable. Part of the skill of a good photographer is avoiding these problems. Photoshop can also be used to fix specific problems with colour reproduction. I would bet that an experienced portrait photographer could identify what went wrong with your friend's pictures to produce a less than satisfactory result by examining them for a few minutes.

I suspect there may be genuine cases where certain people seem relatively less attractive in still photos than in person but this may be due to aspects of their personality or behaviour which the camera cannot capture. I doubt there is anyone however whose perceived attractiveness is not increased by a good photo relative to a bad one and in photography much of what constitutes 'good' has been figured out over the years.

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 26 September 2010 11:26:45PM *  4 points [-]


Comment author: mattnewport 26 September 2010 11:45:52PM 5 points [-]

The OK trends blog to me cannot be read as serious social statistics analysis. It's intent is to get hits and keep their sky high google page rank. It is almost entirely a marketing ploy, and I find it impossible to source them on topics like "what makes a good picture?", "what makes a good message?", "are you all a bunch of racists?", &c.

One of the reasons that instrumental rationality is hard is that acquiring good data is hard. Imperfect data is generally better than no data however and there are other sources where you can find research into some of the same questions that OkCupid covers. Most of the advice in their 'Don't Be Ugly By Accident' post is just standard stuff for portrait photography for example which any book on photography would cover in great detail.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 September 2010 11:35:55PM 3 points [-]

I would advise you to wear smaller glasses if that is possible given your eyesight.

Comment author: Relsqui 27 September 2010 06:34:50PM *  2 points [-]

I agree about OKT, as I noticed elsewhere. I also agree with Alicorn about the glasses, if that's practical and if at-a-glance attractiveness is sufficiently high priority for you.

(SarahC and Relsqui's profiles are very far above the OKCupid standard.)

Thanks for that. ; ) I don't feel I can remark on the way most women use their OKC profiles, because I don't read many of them and I try to stick to the extraordinary ones. But I can say that there are tons of men out there who are clearly parroting what they've been told will attract women, trying to come off as the perfect knight in shining armor while successfully avoiding showing any hint of personality. The effect is to make it seem like they're trying to attract the similarly generic woman so they can get married and have generic children.

Yo estudie Espanol por cinco anos en a escuela. Mi Espanol no es florido. Yo quiero hablar con facilidan en el futuro. Mi vecindad tienen muchas personas que hablan Espanol.

I recommend looking up how to write the accents; some of these words change meaning without them. A common example is that "año" means "year" and "ano" means "anus." Not that any sane reader wouldn't know what you meant, but it's worth knowing anyway. Some verbs change with accents in ways which are much more subtle: "estudio" is first person present and "estudió" is third person preterite.

A few specific errors, if you're interested:

I'd use "estudiaba" rather than "estudié" because it refers to an ongoing process, rather than a single event in time. (By contrast, one might say "empezé estudiar español en el grado segundo," because one began to study at one point in time.)

I think you made a typo writing "en la escuela"; I would probably have written "a la escuela" (at school, rather than in school), but I'm not sure you're actually wrong. It might just be a style choice. Similarly, I'm guessing "facilidan" is meant to be "facilidad."

Your "vecindad" is singular, so it "tiene" many Spanish-speakers, not "tienen." And while "muchas personas" is technically correct, it's the equivalent of saying "many persons" in English--more common would be "mucha gente" (many people).

I'm not fluent either, so I can't promise that's exhaustive, but I've studied Spanish for many years and used to use it at work a lot. :)

Comment author: [deleted] 27 September 2010 02:46:27AM *  3 points [-]

I know why I'm not photogenic:

  1. Bad posture (which I can fix when I'm standing at a mirror, but which shows up a lot on candid pictures.)

  2. Trouble with facial expressions (I'm not sure how to put this ... I'm not good at knowing how my face looks, and I have a dumb expression in most pictures. The general effect is "chipmunk.")

  3. Small total volume of pictures (neither I nor my friends are in the habit of taking lots of pictures of each other.)

One of my defects is -- I'm not sure if there's a shorter way to put this -- knowing what my body position would look like to an observer. It's why I can't do something like, say, golf: you'll tell me to change my form and I won't understand what I'm doing wrong because I can't "see" myself. I think that photogenic people and performers, apart from being physically attractive, are really good at "seeing" themselves.

Comment author: Relsqui 27 September 2010 06:09:32PM 7 points [-]

I think that photogenic people and performers, apart from being physically attractive, are really good at "seeing" themselves.

I'm not sure I agree with this--or rather, I'm not sure this is the best model of what's going on. My impression has always been (and this fits with my photo-taking advice elsewhere in this thread) that you don't learn to see how you look when you're doing something right--you learn how it feels to be in the correct position to do it. That is, someone who's watching you might say "your back is curved, straighten it," and you can straighten it, but you still don't see what they see. You just find out what it feels like to have a straight back, and can try for that again later. I've never played golf, but I'd be surprised if good golfers are thinking about what they look like when they're putting. I'd expect them instead to recognize the feeling of being in the correct posture from having done it before.

Comment author: mattnewport 27 September 2010 03:00:46AM 2 points [-]

This kind of self awareness would be a good starting point to fix the problem if you decided it was important enough to you. There are various things you can do which plausibly claim to improve body awareness (I've heard the Alexander Technique mentioned around here though I don't know anything about it myself) and good body language can be learned to some extent.

Even if you don't think it's worth the effort to work on these things however, if you go to a good professional portrait photographer they should be able to help you address these kinds of problems and get some good pictures. Portrait photography isn't my main area of interest but I've read some books that cover the basics and they generally talk about techniques for getting the client relaxed and comfortable in order to minimize the effects of awkward body language and about things you can tell a person to do that will help them position themselves in a way that will produce good photos.

Comment author: whpearson 27 September 2010 01:44:12AM 2 points [-]

I like your ideas. Although some become harder to enact the less frequent your desired partner type is, which seems to be a problem for some people.

I'll note that if you are only willing to spend limited time on it and have the choice between improving general attractiveness and A/B testing profiles, I would pick the former.

I'm currently aiming for the increased salary and improved fitness.

I don't hold out much hope for OKcupid, I think I'll do better just getting out more to the sorts of events that the people I am interested in might go to.

Comment author: Relsqui 27 September 2010 07:58:55PM 4 points [-]

Observation about online dating which didn't fit anywhere specific under this thread: it's a very strange sensation to be simultaneously aware of having specific preferences about unimportant traits (height, baldness) and that they're irrational. I've noticed that if I'm looking at the profile of a 32-year-old man who is balding, I feel like he's too old for me; another 32-year-old who is not will not give me that feeling. This annoys me a little. I don't care about baldness, but apparently some part of me does.

Comment author: FrankAdamek 27 September 2010 02:55:51PM *  3 points [-]

Comment author: Yvain 24 September 2010 08:41:01PM 3 points [-]

Ah, sure. People (especially women), give me what help you can: http://www.okcupid.com/profile/ScottAlexander

Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 01:06:33AM 6 points [-]

1) I don't want to alarm you, but there's a tiger next to you.

2) I second the comments about your pictures. Get someone with a real camera to take some for you, smile when they do it, and then crop/balance them.

3) You made me giggle a few times; points for that.

4) I do too message men!

5) You get to goad the reader into asking you out and still have it sound like a joke exactly once. The second time it's desperate. (You do it once in the "message me if" and once in a photo caption.)

Where in CA are you from? :)

Comment author: Interpolate 25 September 2010 06:11:01PM 5 points [-]

I get the sense that your profile content doesn't do you justice - perhaps you could afford to be more arrogant? No one you want to meet would find you boring.

I like most of your pictures, but I would include a few where you look more friendly and approachable, eg. pictures of you at work.

Comment author: Relsqui 26 September 2010 05:58:28AM 5 points [-]

No one you want to meet would find you boring.

That's a brilliant piece of advice about the attitude to take when profile-writing. Don't worry about looking good to people you aren't interested in! It doesn't matter what they think!

I would include a few where you look more friendly and approachable, eg. pictures of you at work.

Given the potential objections below about Yvain's work photos, a photo of him socializing might also fit the bill. Nothing says "I'm approachable" like "Look! These people clearly approached me, and I didn't bite them."

Comment author: Alicorn 25 September 2010 07:56:01PM 3 points [-]

Yvain is a med student. Pictures of him at work might have him wearing a mask and up to his elbows in blood. Which would be interesting, but not approachable ;)

Comment author: gwern 24 September 2010 09:30:42PM 3 points [-]

Perhaps I am alone in this, but the 2nd/middle picture looks terrible - as if you hadn't washed or shaved your head in a week.

Comment author: WrongBot 24 September 2010 05:57:31PM 3 points [-]

My profile.

I met my first girlfriend via OKC, but that was ~5 years ago. Haven't had much success there lately, but I've effectively become much more selective since then (due to polyamory's relative rarity), so that isn't too surprising. Very curious to hear what people think about how I've presented myself, as I'm dubious that my learned skills in that domain have transferred to internet profile writing.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 01 October 2010 05:20:07AM *  2 points [-]

I never thought I'd say that LW caused me to join OKCupid. Here's my profile: http://www.okcupid.com/profile/TheMattSimpson

Comments? Suggestions? It's probably obvious that I'm mainly interested in hearing what the LW ladies have to say, but if you men know of such things I'm all ears.

Comment author: Relsqui 25 September 2010 12:27:16AM 2 points [-]

Also, I bet cross-sexual-preference critique would be best: which for most of us means gals critiquing guys and guys critiquing gals. But I realize the LW gender skew limits that.

I'm willing to help cross this divide and check out some dudes or ladies-into-ladies on OKC. I think having seen a lot of profiles with the same errors over and over is a bigger asset than the ovaries, though. Also, unless we really have no criteria other than "is male" or "is female" (and we deserve to have more precise standards than that), it's going to be hard to distinguish between "your profile doesn't attract me" and "you don't attract me." I'm not sure how to account for, well, taste.

To clarify with an example, I'm happy to give that ball a kick and put my profile out there to be critiqued. But there are some qualities that are important to me which I think are underrepresented among LW's users (like having good interpersonal/social skills), and some that I'd expect to be common here which I'd prefer to avoid in a partner (like dedicating an above-average proportion of time to academic or professional pursuits). So if I find out that my profile isn't appealing to people who don't fit those preferences, is that a good or a bad thing?

Comment author: CronoDAS 25 September 2010 08:36:43PM 2 points [-]

I don't think the "head back" picture is a good pose.

Comment author: ata 24 September 2010 11:15:59PM *  2 points [-]

Here's mine.

I like how I match over 90% (and usually 96%-98%) with almost everyone else here.

Comment author: luminosity 25 September 2010 12:46:23AM *  2 points [-]

97%. But I guess that's really not too surprising. One of the things I like about okcupid is how it's easy to make the match rating act as a warning. Make it ignore choices that differ form yours but you don't feel are important, and put high value on the ones that do. I can usually tell at a glance if someone is religious or highly socially conservative.

Comment author: whpearson 24 September 2010 10:45:29PM 2 points [-]

It is also worth noting that making a good profile is not the only thing you can do. If you socialise on the site, you get more exposure in general and people might see you if they are browsing the other people's journals or looking at the recent activity section.

Comment author: Kevin 24 September 2010 10:15:20PM 2 points [-]


Comment author: Will_Newsome 24 September 2010 05:48:04PM 2 points [-]

Autothexis at OKC. Critiques are welcome.

Profile's been pretty successful. I think the main limiting factor is my age, but even then I've managed to hook up with a few cute girls from Cal without putting in too much effort.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 September 2010 05:41:03PM 2 points [-]

I'm bayesian_prior. The profile I have there is successful but I haven't looked at the text I wrote there in over a year. Critiques are welcome.

Comment author: Nisan 25 September 2010 04:53:50PM *  2 points [-]

You may want to expand the sections "The first things people usually notice about me" and "The six things I could never do without". The former is a chance to provide a random detail about yourself. As for the latter, "eudaimonia" is a great answer, but if I didn't know the transhumanist connotation and looked it up on Wikipedia, I'd conclude that you must be a fan of virtue ethics :)

ETA: Oh, and a while back OKCupid got rid of the "I am , , and " section, and incorporated the text into your self-summary. You may or may not like that.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 18 September 2010 10:33:57PM 14 points [-]

I recently mentioned Dempster-Shafer evidentiary theory another thread. I admit, I was surprised to get no replies to that comment.

Is there any interest in a top-level post introducing DST? Bayesianism seems to be cited as a god of reasoning around here, but DST is strictly more powerful, since setting uncertainty to 0 in all DST formulas results in answers identical to what Bayesian probability would give. I would like to introduce Dempster-Shafer here, but only if the audience will find it worthwhile.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 19 September 2010 12:18:49AM 2 points [-]

I would very much like an introductory post. Hopefully LW's best statisticians would reply and a good discussion would get going. As far as human epistemic rationality is concerned, though, does it ever help to try to 'move in harmony with the DST' the way it seems to help when people try to 'move in harmony with the Bayes' by e.g. making sure to take into account prior probabilities or the like? Are there any qualitative applications of DST to one's beliefs that are more powerful or more elegant than naive Bayesian heuristics? Also, it is just a confusion to ask what the equivalent of Bayesian networks are for DST? I'm definitely not a statistician but the application of verbalized statistical heuristics has helped me a lot in the past. It'd be cool if you could cover these questions in your post, but if not I still think you should write it. Pleaaaaaase.

Comment author: gwern 19 September 2010 12:15:00AM 2 points [-]

I'd like to read about it, but less about the details than why we should prefer it to Bayesianism. For example, how would proponents deal with Cox's theorem?

Comment author: ata 18 September 2010 11:07:53PM *  2 points [-]

I'd be interested in a top-level post — I had been meaning to ask about it, in fact. I've read about DST briefly and had been wondering (1) if in practice it is actually useful for anything you can't do as easily with pure Bayes, and (2) if they are theoretically isomorphic or if Bayes is strictly a special case of DST.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 18 September 2010 11:26:30PM 5 points [-]

In my opinion, using DST usually adds unnecessary complexity to problems that can be sufficiently solved in a Bayesian framework. Then again, I think that the same thing can often be said of descending from a Bayesian to a Frequentist approach, which is to say that most problems are simple, and properly using any framework is enough to get a good answer. See neq1's post that inspired my original comment.

That said, I work on problems that I have solved both from a Bayesian perspective and from the perspective of DST, and I have found the former lacking. There are at least a few problems that I feel like DST is much better at. If you search Google Scholar for Dempster-Shafer and look at results in the past few years, you'll notice a really clear trend for using it to extract information from noisy sensor data. That's what I use it for, and seems to be a strength of DST.

As to your second question, I think it is in the realm of possibility that Bayes can be used to construct DST, but I don't know how and if it is possible, it is certainly more difficult than going the other direction. In some sense, DST is meta-Bayesian, because PDFs of PDFs of priors can be specified, but doing that with a strictly Bayesian framework misses the set-theoretic nature of Dempster's Rule of Combination, and results in a weaker theory, that among other things, still doesn't handle contradictions any better than Bayes does.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 September 2010 09:34:11PM 13 points [-]

I'm considering writing a post on anapana meditation (sometimes also known as mindfulness meditation or breath meditation) that gives instructions, tips for practicing, and details costs and benefits. I would probably be drawing primarily from personal experience (but I'd still appreciate any references to relevant studies). At the end of the post I would invite others to use my knowledge to give this form of meditation a trial. Is something people are interested in? For those who are interested, is there anything you would like to see addressed?

My meditation history: I learned anapana and vipassana meditation from a 10-day course at one of these centers in 2006. After a year of false starts I was able to keep up a daily practice of 1 hr from 2007-2008 and 2 hrs from 2008 until the present. During that period I also took an additional 4 (or 5?) 10-day courses.

Comment author: Bobertron 18 September 2010 01:12:00PM 2 points [-]

For those who are interested, is there anything you would like to see addressed?

I'd be interested in mindfulness, concentration and relaxation. How they relate to each other and anapana meditation. Should one practice something in addition to anapana meditation if one is interested in concentration or relaxation?

Comment author: Jonii 22 September 2010 03:06:47PM 10 points [-]

So, hello. Has anyone here ever experienced spontaneous and sudden evaporation of akrasia alltogether? I'm asking mostly because this is exactly what happened to me, on 26th of August this year.

I didn't do anything special. I had tried taking cold showers every now and then for a week earlier, and started taking some nutrient pills around that time, that's pretty much it. Then, that morning, I suddenly started working on the projects I had planned and thought of.

That may not sound all that dramatic, but I haven't introduced myself yet. I have been my whole life a rock-solid underachiever. After elementary school doing homework was not enforced, so I gradually stopped doing that. University doesn't care if you participate in lectures, so I didn't. All my academic effort happens roughly one day before any given exam. It's not that I didn't like the subject I study, or that I didn't want to do it. I just couldn't. There was a mental block that totally prevented me from using my free time for any of my projects, things I wanted to work on.

So that day, I spontaneously figured that I gotta study one thing in order to be prepared for the next academic year. So I did. I figured my room was suboptimal for studying, and I started cleaning it a bit. I figured I would achieve more elsewhere, so I went there and studied more. Then the night came, and I slept. Next day, this happened again. By now, I've completely reshaped my apartment so that I can work even at home, and I do work. I'm writing this after going to university, participating lectures like I should, and doing, at my free time, at my home, additional studying and work related to the most difficult subjects, in an organized order(Say, today it's about SQL-stuff and Complex Analysis).

Basically, for my whole life, I have wished that I could just sit down and start working, for whatever reason, just because I felt like it was a good idea. Now I can, and it's like a goddamn superpower.

But the scary and weird thing is, I have absolutely no idea how did this happen. I don't feel that I have changed one bit, nor that I was doing things anyhow differently. If I traveled back to be me 2 months ago, I wouldn't start working, all I could wish is that the miracle happened again in this new timeline also.

As a sidenote, this sort of weird leaps are not unheard of. I play go. Ratings in the game are based on winning percentage, so if you win against 4k 50% of time, you're also 40, if there's one standard deviation of difference, you're either 3k or 5k, and so on. So basically, for 4k to win against 2k, there is about 2% chance(Is this right? I'm actually a bit unsure about exact numbers here). So, I started playing and after few months I encountered a block at 7k level. I kept on playing for a month or so, winning steadily about 50% of my games against 7k, and faring worse against stronger players. Then one morning, again, I started winning. It seemed I couldn't lose against 7k players, nor 6k, or even 5k. Next day, I was playing at 3k level. And though I tried, I didn't notice that anything had changed. It felt absurdly much that the rest of the world had just become weaker overnight. This was the most dramatic example, but even later on I have had similar leaps.

Comment author: jimrandomh 22 September 2010 04:49:27PM 3 points [-]

This exactly mirrors my experience with correcting an unrecognized thiamine deficiency with sulbutimine. You had a micronutrient defiiciency (possibly but not necessarily the same one I had), and those pills you mentioned taking fixed it.

Problems with brain biochemistry disguise themselves as psychological problems. This is a big deal and it needs more attention, because I think a lot of people are struggling with problems like this and don't know that fixing it is even possible.

Comment author: Morendil 22 September 2010 07:24:44PM 2 points [-]

The phenomenon of plateaus in learning is fairly common, and in Go specifically if you look at a graph of how a population of players are distributed in terms of ranks, it has several noticeable discontinuities.

So the Go jump isn't too surprising.

The one with akrasia is, because I wouldn't think of that as something you were learning.

Comment author: ata 22 September 2010 03:28:24PM 2 points [-]

Huh. I could use a miracle like that.

What were the pills you had recently started taking?

Comment author: Cyan 17 September 2010 02:29:29AM *  9 points [-]

A request for help: I feel like I'm finally mastering my akrasia at work, but I have yet to find a technique to remove a pre-established Ugh Field. In this case, I have nearly complete drafts for two paper that I wrote as part of my Ph.D. thesis. I have a strong stress reaction to just thinking about opening the files (ETA: it's thinking about doing the work that causes the reaction; opening the files is just the first step in actually doing the work), but I want to want to whip them into shape and submit them for publication.

Less Wrong, other-optimize me!

Comment author: Vladimir_M 17 September 2010 03:39:28AM *  12 points [-]

Ask someone else to sit down together with you at the computer, open the files, and start reading and discussing them with you. Eventually, start editing them together. Tell your collaborator specifically to hang around for a while and disregard your (possible) requests to stop, until the work is well underway and you can continue with the flow.

This would of course require a significant commitment on part of the other person, but if this is really important, a good friend should be willing to help you, and you might even consider paying someone less close for their time and effort.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 September 2010 06:08:06AM 3 points [-]

Bonus incentive if they are hot and of your sex of preference. (This is an entirely serious suggestion.)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 17 September 2010 06:22:35AM *  2 points [-]

That would indeed be a significant improvement over the basic scheme, but probably hard to pull off in practice.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 September 2010 06:54:37AM 2 points [-]

but probably hard to pull off in practice.

Really? I find it easier to pull off, given the colleagues I tend to build collaborative relationships with. In general it is a whole lot easier for me to work with girls than guys. Guys are more likely to compete, to try to force through bad ideas because they are being territorial. Control of the intellectual space is more important than getting stuff done, for obvious social and evolutionary reasons. On the other hand girls don't need to compete with me for the same social territory so a better balance of give and take can be reached.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 17 September 2010 04:04:14PM *  3 points [-]

The comment was about this particular case -- since Cyan complained about having few options in general, I figured that it made no sense to propose this additional enhancement. But yes, what you write is generally correct. This is also one of the principal reasons why women are on average better adapted to modern workplaces of white-collar drudgery, and are thus doing increasingly better in today's economy.

In addition, there is the basic fact that being surrounded by attractive people of the opposite sex creates a more pleasant environment, making one overall happier, more optimistic, and less prone to lethargy, especially for men. I've heard half-substantiated stories about companies that, under an informal policy, hire a certain number of attractive people who otherwise wouldn't pass muster, specifically to boost workplace morale.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 17 September 2010 05:51:18AM *  7 points [-]

If you need to whip them into shape, you're probably not happy with them. If you're anything like me, showing them to someone else is probably the last thing you want to do.

Solution: you owe me one of the papers by the next open thread. If you don't work on it, you'll be sending me whatever you're so embarrassed about. If you can fix it in time, you won't have to worry. I don't have much time right now, but I will read it, so beware.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 September 2010 05:15:06AM 6 points [-]

Three options:

  • Acquire the Sedona Method from a suitable source. It is particularly useful for 'releasing' that sort of stress reaction. (An audio form preferably - a text version is too much like work!)
  • Read comments by pjeby, his approach includes rewiring the underlying associations that lead to the aversion. Hopefully PJ himself is following the comments at the moment!
  • Don't try to work. Go and sit in a chair and think "I am writing my paper" to yourself over and over. Now here is the important part - you do NOT use the build up of willpower you get to go and force yourself to work. You hold yourself back from any attempt to make yourself work and just keep relaxing and keep thinking "I am writing my paper". You only allow yourself to go and work when you really, really want to. If this means you spend two hours relaxing instead of working then that's good too. This should be instinctively associated with productive self nurturing rather than the shame of procrastination.

That final approach would probably be better described in a post than a dense bullet point but it does work for me. In fact I'm planning to go think to myself "I am putting the entirety of my semester's work into supermemo".

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 17 September 2010 05:03:05AM *  6 points [-]

I have a strong stress reaction to just thinking about opening the files (ETA: it's thinking about doing the work that causes the reaction; opening the files is just the first step in actually doing the work)

This looks like a severe burnout. Is it possible for you to take a month off?

Have you tried 80/20ing the drafts? What's the most difficult task that you need to perform to complete the papers? Does it require hard mental work, or it's just formatting / proofreading / editing / rewriting / reviewing sort of thing?

Or perhaps the task itself isn't what paralyzes you, but you're afraid of some submission / approval process that lies ahead? This has often been the case for me when I dealt with submissions of important work to human reviewers. I'd suggest a written self-interview to figure out what really causes your reaction.

Comment author: MartinB 17 September 2010 04:13:15AM 4 points [-]

My suggestions: compartmentalize setting up the work environment - here: put notes on table, open file, etc. - and the actual work. Basically you set up everything you need, then get a tea and then start work. That way the setup is not perceived as real work. Against ugh a timer might work. Commit yourself to work on ONE of the papers for 30 min, then a break, and if you are in flow then another round. But first just spend the whole 30 min on the paper. Regardless of what comes out of it. Overcoming the startup hump is sometimes enough to get going.

If your editing process is more complicated, then write the steps up upfront, and do them one after the other in blocks of time(s)

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 17 September 2010 05:16:32AM *  7 points [-]

My suggestions: compartmentalize setting up the work environment - here: put notes on table, open file, etc. - and the actual work. Basically you set up everything you need, then get a tea and then start work. That way the setup is not perceived as real work.

I strongly support this suggestion. The setup phase can be generalized as removing trivial inconveniences and creating trivial impetuses. I often separate this stage from the actual work, sometimes with an explicit commitment not to work before the setup is done.

Comment author: erratio 17 September 2010 02:51:07AM 4 points [-]

What's the smallest possible step you could take towards opening the files? Can you open the folder they're in? Or the next folder up in the directory tree?

Comment author: Cyan 17 September 2010 04:08:08AM 2 points [-]

It is possible for me to open the files; but when I do, I have a fight-or-flight stress reaction with accompanying squirt of adrenaline.

Comment author: Alicorn 17 September 2010 04:11:36AM 6 points [-]

What if you just... leave them open? And keep leaving them open until it goes away? (It would go away, right?) Flee the room if you have to while the application loads and then come back later and perform the passive action of not closing them.

Comment author: Alicorn 17 September 2010 02:32:50AM 4 points [-]

Do you have this reaction to thinking about opening the files even if you commit to closing them immediately afterward? Perhaps with a not-working-on-them purpose in mind, like checking to make sure the files haven't been corrupted or anything?

Comment author: Cyan 17 September 2010 02:37:32AM 2 points [-]

Yup. In fact, it appears I have a mild stress reaction to just discussing doing so online.

Comment author: Alicorn 17 September 2010 03:05:55AM 3 points [-]

What about asking someone else to open them for you? I expect this would be stressful, but would it be so much so that you couldn't do it?

Comment author: Cyan 18 September 2010 01:34:43AM *  3 points [-]

So, first some more relevant details, and then my plan of action.

My instrumental reasons for wanting to submit the drafts are: first, it's career-damaging for someone in my line of work to let two nearly complete drafts languish; second, my former advisor also has an interest in seeing the work published (that's basically his job too) so if I want to get a good reference from him, I have to do it. There's no fixed deadline per se, but the sooner the better.

My plan of action is to begin with those approaches which seem to target the stress reaction first, and if unsuccessful there, to move on to approaches which require working through it. In the first category are the suggestions of Vladimir Golovin (paragraph 3), erratio, and wedrifid. In the second category are the suggestions of Vladimir M, Vladimir Golovin (paragraph 2), cousin_it, and MartinB. I won't be following up on the suggestions of datadataeverywhere and JamesAndrix as I have already tried artificial time pressure and I know it doesn't help.

My thanks to all of you for taking the time to offer your helpful suggestions!

Comment author: cousin_it 17 September 2010 09:52:19AM *  3 points [-]

Hi Cyan, I can offer you this, starting tomorrow. Interested?

(Disclosure: I tried it yesterday for the first time with another LW user and was very satisfied with the results, at least on my end. Post forthcoming.)

Comment author: JamesAndrix 17 September 2010 05:40:10AM 3 points [-]

If significant progress is not made on these papers by the next Open Thread, I will melt a box of paperclips.

I know you're not clippy, but maybe this will work anyway.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 24 September 2010 11:22:58AM 8 points [-]

A man committed suicide in Harvard Yard a week ago, after uploading a 1905-page book to the web first. Curiously (because he was, like myself, named Mitchell), I first heard about this on the morning I went to post my make-a-deal article; it led me to trim away the more emotive parts of my own, rather shorter message.

Anyway, I have been examining the book and it's very intriguing. If I can sum up his worldview, it is that human values have an evolutionary origin, but Jewish and Anglo-Saxon culture, for specific historical reasons, developed values which biocentrically appear to be anti-evolutionary, but which in fact ultimately issue in the technological, postbiological world of the Singularity. (Eliezer is mentioned a few times, mostly as an opposite extreme to Hugo DeGaris, with Heisman, the author of the book, proposing a synthesis.) Heisman's suicide, meanwhile, is anticipated in the book, where he says that willing death is a way to will truth in a meaningless universe. He equates materialism with objectivity with meaninglessness and nihilism; he considers the desire to live as the ultimate barrier to objectivity, because objectivity implies that life is no better than death, and that nothing is better than anything else.

It seems to me that under different circumstances, he might have written a very similar book, but would instead be alive. I imagine that if the book receives any serious attention, a lot of it will focus on what could have been different - to what extent his suicide was predetermined by his philosophy - but the rest of the book (its "sociobiological" history and its Singularity musings) also contains a lot to ponder.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 24 September 2010 12:58:07PM *  10 points [-]

The comments, on the blog that you link to, mention Ted Kaczynski. This reminded me of my own comment

Think about the date: 1995. The Kaczynski Manifesto marks the end of an era. Nobody today would start a terrorist campaign aimed at getting his manifesto published in a newspaper. It is not just that newspapers are dying and that no-one believes what they read in newspapers anymore, especially not opinion pieces and manifestos.

Now-a-days you put your manifesto on a website and discuss it on Reddit. If it is well written and provocative it will be discussed and pulled to pieces. The delusion that did for Kacynski, and his victims, was that if only he could get the message out, it would change the word. Now-a-days you can get your message out, if not to a mass audience, at least to curious intellectuals. You get to the stage Kacynski never reached, of talking it over and finding that others are not persuaded and have their own stubbornly held views, very different from your own.

1995, the very end of the solipsistic era. In the new internet era there is no hiding from the fact that others read your manifesto, find some of it true, some of it false, some of it confused, and then ask you to read their, much better manifesto :-)

Perhaps my final point needs to be spelled out explicitly. You cannot expect other intellectuals to read and seriously engage with your door-step manifesto unless you are willing to hang around and read and seriously engage with their door-step manifesto. But you cannot do that if you are dead. So suicide is forbidden.

Alternatively: there is an implicit deal here - I'll read yours if you'll read mine. Killing yourself breaks the deal, and damns you to obscurity.

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 September 2010 12:43:32PM *  7 points [-]

How wrong can you be? Answer: very wrong.

Comment author: ciphergoth 21 September 2010 05:03:13PM 7 points [-]

What would you do to assess the advisability of taking antidepressants?

I'm trying to advise someone who is receiving conflicting advice; there appears to be plenty of controversy in this area and many factors confound assessing the evidence. Before I point to specifics on evidence that might influence the decision one way or the other I thought I'd ask in the most general way I can. I hope using the Open Thread to play "ask a rationalist" like this isn't a bad thing!

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 September 2010 11:27:35AM *  5 points [-]

Here's why I turn to Less Wrong in more detail.

On the one hand, the anti-psychiatry movement and critics of biological psychiatry seem to suffer from really serious problems with thinking straight: they criticize reductionism, they seem to like philosophers like Foucault, and when they try to say that mental illness doesn't exist they seem to go for the "applause lights" of blaming society over the vivid reality of mental illness.

But on the other hand, there seem to be really serious problems with the science of studying mental illness: a tendency to look where it's easiest to look rather than where the strongest effects are leading to over-emphasis on easily, cleanly detectable factors, massive distortion through the powerful financial incentives of the pharmaceutical industry including ghost-writing papers for scientists and a bad case of the file-drawer effect, and a century-long history of just making shit up.

It's incredibly daunting to be faced with the task of cutting through this thicket to make a potentially life-changing decision.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 September 2010 06:29:51PM 5 points [-]

What would you do to assess the advisability of taking antidepressants?

Antidepressants can be useful but I do note that antidepressants and SSRIs are used more synonymously than they could be. In fact, it is worth asking your doctor about a SSRE (ie. tianeptine). From wikipedia:

SSREs are used as antidepressants for the treatment of depression and anxiety, and are in marked contrast to other antidepressants such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which inhibit the reuptake of serotonin instead.[1][10] SSREs have been demonstrated to be as effective as SSRIs against depression, have a much faster onset of action (immediate), and have a much better tolerability profile,[1][10] although interestingly, it has also been shown that the SSRI fluoxetine can substitute for tianeptine in animal studies.[11]

I speak as someone who uses an SSRI and finds it useful so I don't mean to claim the class has no value for all indications.

In general antidepressants can be useful (even life changingly so) but it does depend on the details of the symptoms and etiology. 'Depression' is a somewhat broad symptom cluster and not all cases that fit that diagnosis have the same cause and respond best to the same treatment.

But one note: It is best your own research even when a drug is prescribed. If the research brings up doubts then a second and third medical opinion is vital. There are overwhelmingly large numbers of people who have been prescribed venlafaxine (Effexor) for example who regret not doing their research first. It is an extremely effective drug but the side effects when ceasing usage are brutal. People who have gone through withdrawal for heroin addiction and also withdrawn from Effexor have described the latter experience as worse.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 September 2010 08:13:19PM 2 points [-]

Everything I've heard is conflicting; of the people I've known who have been on antidepressants, some had great results, and some came out worse. What I know for sure is that psychiatrists are very, very likely to prescribe them for people showing symptoms of depression. If you go to a psychiatrist's office, you'll probably leave with a prescription. So don't go to an appointment thinking "Ho hum, I'll see what the doctor says."

Comment author: xamdam 26 September 2010 04:33:27PM 6 points [-]


This technology IMO is a bridge to getting serious scientists involved in cryonics research

Comment author: [deleted] 26 September 2010 01:04:06PM *  6 points [-]

I don't know what to make of this:

Suicide note


The man who took his own life on Harvard's campus Saturday left a 1,904-page suicide note online.

According to the Harvard Crimson, Mitchell Heisman wrote "Suicide Note," posted at http://suicidenote.info, while living in an apartment near the school. The note is a "sprawling series of arguments that touch upon historical, religious and nihilist themes," his mother, Lonni Heisman, told the Crimson. She said her son would have wanted people to know about his work.

The complex note, divided into four parts, touches on Christianity, the Holocaust and social progress, among other topics, and mentions Harvard several times.

IvyGate calls the note "probing, deeply researched, and often humorous."

Heisman was 35 when he shot himself on the steps of Harvard's Memorial Church Saturday. He had a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Albany. According to the Crimson, he worked in area bookstores and lived on inheritance from his father, who died when he was young.

I've begun skimming a few of the chapters (the titles aren't anything if not provocative). On the one hand I am quite predisposed to view the entire work as mostly bunk, because manifestos of this nature often are. However on the other hand, the idea of a philosopher driven to death by his learning is a stimulating archetype enough for me to explore this. And yes I know that considering he quotes:

Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward. —SOCRATES, PHAEDO

Its certain he was playing on that.

I've decided to post this here for rationality detox so I don't pick up any craziness (I'd wager a high probability of there being some there).

He seems to have developed what he terms a sociobiolgical analysis of the history of liberal democracy, reminiscent so far in parts of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. This judging by a few excerpts of the ending chapter culminates in a kind of singularitarian view and the inevitability of human extinction at the hands of our self created transhuman Gods.

Comment author: jimrandomh 26 September 2010 05:22:32PM *  12 points [-]

Mitchell Heisman starts off by saying

If my hypothesis is correct, this work will be repressed. It should not be surprising if justice is not done to the evidence presented here. It should not be unexpected that these arguments will not be given a fair hearing. It is not unreasonable to think that this work will not be judged on its merits.

This is obviously false - it's up on the internet, it's gotten some press coverage, it quite obviously has not been repressed. But he is right that it won't be judged on its merits, because it's so long that reading it represents a major time commitment, and his suicide taints it with an air of craziness; together, these ensure that very few people will do more than lightly skim it.

The sad thing is, if this guy had simply talked to others as he went along - published his writing a chapter at a time on a blog, or something - he probably could've made a real contribution, with a real impact. Instead, he seems to have gone for 1904 pages with no feedback with which to correct misconceptions, and the result is that he went seriously off the rails.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 27 September 2010 04:41:03PM *  9 points [-]

I just skimmed a few random pages of the book, and ran into this stunning passage:

Marx’s improbable claim that economic-material development will ultimately trump the need for elite human leaders may turn out to be a point on which he was right. What Marx failed to anticipate is that capitalism is driving economic-technological evolution towards the development of artificial intelligence. The advent of greater-than-human artificial intelligence is the decisive piece of the puzzle that Marx failed to account for. Not the working class [as Marx believed - V.], and not a human elite [as Lenin believed - V.], but superhuman intelligent machines may provide the conditions for “revolution”.
If this is correct, the first signs of evidence may be unprecedented levels of permanent unemployment as automation increasingly replaces human workers. While this development may begin to require a new form of socialism to sustain demand, artificial intelligence will ultimately provide an alternative to “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” [...] The creation of an artificial intelligence trillions of times greater than all human intelligence combined is not simply the advent of another shiny new gadget. The difference between Leninism-Stalinism and the potential of AI can be compared to the difference between Caesar and God.

The small part of the book I've seen so far sounds lucid and without any signs of craziness, and based on this passage, I would guess that there is whole lot of interesting stuff in there. I'll try reading more as time permits.

Comment author: Perplexed 26 September 2010 07:54:44PM *  3 points [-]

I don't know how much detox this provides, but this blog has comments from three anonymous posters who claim to have known him.

I have known Mitch since he was born - he is my cousin - and the answer is in there - at age 12 he lost his father - and at the funeral I saw the spark of life go out in him. To loose a father and then describe it as a material process in-order to cope explains the next 23 years and ultimate end.

I knew Mitch and he had a good sense of humor. I'm happy to hear his cousin's insight, as Mitch was a mysterious guy, not prone to intimate discussion. A lot of on-line bloggers are scoffing at his book, which irritates me...if they knew him, how passionate he was about it, they'd have more respect. I wish I could've helped Mitch somehow, but he wasn't one for heart-to-heart talks. A pleasant person to have around though, and I will miss him. For someone with Aspberger's he really tried hard to socialize...at barbecues, art shows, parties, and on hikes. I wish his book all the best.

I knew Mitch for several years and I didn't know he had Aspberger's. I always enjoyed our talks. I think his book will get out there. Whether that is for the good or not, I don't know.

Comment author: andreas 26 September 2010 04:10:07PM 3 points [-]

From the document:

I suggest a synthesis between the approaches of Yudkowsky and de Garis.

Later, elaborating:

Yudkowsky's emphasis on pristine best scenarios will probably fail to survive the real world precisely because evolution often proceeds by upsetting such scenarios. Yudkowsky's dismissal of random mutations or evolutionary engineering could thus become the source of the downfall of his approach. Yet de Garis's overemphasis on evolutionary unpredictability fails to account for the extent to which human intelligence itself is model for learning from "dumb" random processes on a higher levels of abstraction so that they do not have to be repeated.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 September 2010 11:20:47PM 6 points [-]

Something interesting I've noticed about myself. Recently I've been worrying if I'm an atheist and my mindset is often something akin to "science as a way to see the world, not just a discipline to be studied" is less because I've found good reason to accept the former as fact and the latter as a good mindset, and more because of a socialization effect of being around Less Wrong. Meaning, even as a somewhat lurker with 48 karma total whose made no comment above 9 karma (as of this one), I'm wondering if my thoughts are less due to my own personal reasoning abilities and more due to a cached self created by being in a certain atmosphere (namely, here).

So my question is this: Is there a way I could test whether the socialization of being around a certain atmosphere changes my views more or less than my acceptance of reasons for those views? And is this possibly a part of understanding my understanding or am I misapplying that idea?

Comment author: andreas 19 September 2010 03:12:52AM 4 points [-]

Ask yourself: If the LW consensus on some question was wrong, how would you notice? How do you distinguish good arguments from bad arguments? Do your criteria for good arguments depend on social context in the sense that they might change if your social context changes?

Next, consider what you believe and why you think you believe it, applying the methods you just named. According to your criteria, are the arguments in favor of your beliefs strong, and the arguments against weak? Or do your criteria not discriminate between them? Do you have difficulty explaining why you hold the positions you hold?

These two sets of questions correspond to two related problems that you could worry about and that imply different solutions. The former, more fundamental problem is broken epistemology. The latter problem is knowledge that is not truly part of you, knowledge disconnected from your epistemic machinery.

I don't see an easy way out; no simple test you could apply, only the hard work of answering the fundamental questions of rationality.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 September 2010 03:36:20AM 2 points [-]

Expose yourself to the best of the other side, and see if it changes your mind. See religion at its best, at its most intelligent, and ask yourself what you think then.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 September 2010 03:42:29AM *  2 points [-]

I'm going to admit laziness early, and acknowledge that possibly you or someone else has something specific in mind. What would you [or any outside observer] consider reading to see that?

Edit: This also tempts me to build a time machine and ask my past self with whom I feel very disjointed from why he still holds onto his faith, or to grab myself during the transition and watch it happen again. Not to say I was religion at it's best, but I could see what convinced me better... alas, such is not the case :P

Comment author: [deleted] 19 September 2010 03:51:30AM 3 points [-]

If you're a theological type, Neibuhr and Tillich are supposed to be good.

I'm not, so what I'd actually recommend is reading the Bible or whatever scriptures are in your tradition, and going to religious services in whatever your tradition is, and talking to religious people you respect in real life.

The other thing is looking outside your tradition. A lot of people seem to find Buddhism objectively impressive without being raised in it.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 19 September 2010 04:43:04AM 2 points [-]

Don't be lazy -- either go do research, or admit that you have little or no rational doubt about your current position.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 September 2010 05:06:25AM 2 points [-]

My latter half of that same statement was to remedy that laziness by asking for direction, rather than flailing out on my own. I realized without that starting momentum, I'd just be an angsty LessWrong poster. SarahC and andreas both gave me some direction; now I'm going to run with that and see where I end up. If nothing else, I should have more information than I do now.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2010 02:26:45PM *  5 points [-]

Retraction Watch is a fairly new blog that looks at retractions of scientific papers. It offers interesting insights and perspectives into the sociology of science especially when dealing with fraud. It is run by the same fellow who runs Embargo Watch which examines the slightly dryer subject of how embargoes on papers impact science.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 September 2010 05:01:04PM *  5 points [-]

Consider this problem: given positive integers a,b,c, are there positive integers x,y such that a*x*x+b*y=c? Amazingly, it is NP-complete. Can anyone explain to me how it manages to be complete?

Comment author: neq1 19 September 2010 03:41:38PM 5 points [-]

Error finding: I strongly suspect that people are better at finding errors if they know there is an error.

For example, suppose we did an experiment where we randomized computer programmers into two groups. Both groups are given computer code and asked to try and find a mistake. The first group is told that there is definitely one coding error. The second group is told that there might be an error, but there also might not be one. My guess is that, even if you give both groups the same amount of time to look, group 1 would have a higher error identification success rate.

Does anyone here know of a reference to a study that has looked at that issue? Is there a name for it?


Comment author: datadataeverywhere 23 September 2010 12:18:18AM 3 points [-]

I know of no such study, and have failed to find one in a quick literature search.

I occasionally run behavioral psych studies, and this seems like a good candidate. How would you feel about me adapting this into a study?

Comment author: CronoDAS 21 September 2010 02:48:04AM *  4 points [-]

Prediction: Group 1 would also have a higher false-positive rate.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 September 2010 04:30:20AM *  4 points [-]

I was thinking about turning this chunk of vomited IM text I wrote for a non-LW cogsci-student friend into a post (with lots of links and references and stuff). Thoughts? I'll probably repost this for the new open thread so that more people see it and can give me feedback.

People make this identity for themselves... no, it's not that they make it. To some extent it's chosen, but a lot of it is sorta random stuff from the environment. Ya know, man is infinitely malleable, whatever. Like, if you happen to give money to a bum on the street, you'll start thinking of yourself as the type of person who gives money to poor people, constructing this internal narrative about who you are. Except a lot of the time it's not even conscious, you just do things and think they're representative of the type of person you are. And if you're that type of person, you do more of that type of a thing. So there's a chance for cascades, especially if there's in-group/out-group bias. 'Cuz if you start leaning towards Green over Blue, then you have more positive affect around Green, which polarizes you, leading to more positive affect, et cetera. So there are all these attractors in identity space that we unkowingly get sucked into, and they can cause bias or good habits or bad habits.

But the thing is, rationality is precise, and if you're being sucked into all these attractors unknowingly then the chance that you're being sucked into the attractors and identity that is best for finding truth or doing the best thing according to your preferences is pretty slim. Signaling comes into play via something I noticed a few months ago: you think a lot about the things you wish to signal, and you signal things that pertain to your identity. So someone like me has the identity of 'rationalist' and 'smart person' and 'person who wants to be good at everything' and 'person with strong sense of aesthetics', and so I end up wanting to signal those things. I'll try to be rational, because of consistency effects. (Cialdini has an excellent book reviewing lots of psychology literature about consistency effects and how, if you act a certain way, you'll try to act that way in the future to be consistent.) I'll try to get good at programming, because part of my identity has me wanting to be really good at everything, and programming is this big thing it'd be cool to be good at. And because I want to signal these things so that I and others can see them, I think about these things too, a lot of the time. My internal monologue is primed by thoughts about becoming more awesome or being rational.

To some extent that's good, but if I'm not careful about my identity, it could be bad. I could be biased by my identity in various ways. For instance, an easy way for this to happen is to identify with a political party or a religion or philosophical position. You support arguments on 'your side' and try to shoot down arguments on the 'opposing side', even when there's no reason other than identity to want facts to have been a certain way or another. From a Bayesian perspective, it doesn't even make any sense; it's an impossible error of probability theory that only humans could do, because we're crazy. So we have to be very careful and very cognizant of our identity, and thus what we wish to signal, and thus our thoughts, and because the brain is so leaky, we have to watch for potential for causation and feedback loops due to correlation in those three facets of thoughtspace, actionspace, and personalityspace.

Edit: Also, goal distortion.

Comment author: Relsqui 28 September 2010 07:45:52AM 3 points [-]

Definitely interested in the topic, would like to see more about it.

if you act a certain way, you'll try to act that way in the future to be consistent

This just made an experience in my past click for me:

One of the traits-people-know-about-me is that Relsqui Doesn't Watch TV. The set of Relsqui-related activities and the set of TV-related activites are assumed to be mutually exclusive. This came about, entirely reasonably, as a result of my griping when a TV was on in the background, during a meal, or when I'd rather be socializing/doing anything else. It's true that I don't much enjoy it as a medium. However, there are a few specific examples which I like.

When the most recent season of Dr. Who started, a bunch of my friends started getting together every week to watch it. I'd hear them plan it on another evening, and talk about the episode the following week, and I'd kind of "hrm" to myself and fidget and not say anything. This went on for a few weeks, until finally at the end of some unrelated social evening I approached the friend who was hosting it and said,

"So ... um. It's completely understandable that you wouldn't even have thought to invite me, because I've made such a big deal in the past about not liking that sort of thing, but ... uh. I actually happen to like Dr. Who."

He blinked at me a couple of times, affirmed that he hadn't invited me because he was certain I wouldn't be interested, and immediately encouraged me to come. So I did! And it was fun.

That was, I gather, me making a deliberate choice to overcome the consistency effect--although without knowing its name, I just thought of it as "asking for what you want when other people don't know you want it." I was pretty proud of myself.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 September 2010 05:06:53AM 3 points [-]

I think the insight that one's behavior has been (often) determined by a self-image that is not wholly within one's control is really important. It seems like a discovery that may help one make the transition from associative to mechanistic thought which should allow for greater goal achievement.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 September 2010 04:38:50AM *  3 points [-]


me: This morning I had the epiphany, maybe false, that the brain is horribly fucked up in that it's wired so that correlation implies causation.
Like how if you're happy, you smile, and if you smile, you get happy.
What the hell is with that.
Claire: Haha, I don't know.
me: And the potential for crazy feedback loops like I think happens during jhana in meditation. You get happier and more relaxed and compassionate and more accepting of yourself, which causes you get get happier and more relaxed and compassionate and accepting of yourself, until you reach this ridiculous altered state that feels like you're enlightened. How is the brain set up so that it's possible to do that just by focusing on your breath and relaxing for 5 minutes? WTF.
Claire: Everything has its bugs.

Comment author: Relsqui 29 September 2010 06:59:27PM 2 points [-]

I have a model I call the "badge/shield" theory, which goes like this:

When someone tells you you're good at something, or when you otherwise believe that you are, it's like a badge. You wear it proudly, and you want to show it off. It makes you feel good about yourself and you look for examples to practice talents you have badges for.

Example Badge: I think of myself as a good communicator, so I like mediating between friends who are misunderstanding each other, or explaining things to my classmates.

When someone tells you you're bad at something, or when you otherwise believe that you are, it's like a shield. You hold it up, often preemptively, against any opportunity to do that thing. The inability becomes part of your identity, and you believe it excuses you from having to do the things you have shields for.

Example Shield: I have a friend who claims she's terrible at math; I don't know, because I've never seen her try to do any. She won't calculate tips or split checks, because she has decided that she's a person who Can't Do Math and won't try.

Oddly enough, the seed of this came from a Dear Abby column. A woman had written in frustrated that her husband never volunteered to look after the kids. The advice was to mention to their mutual friends (perhaps when the husband was in earshot) that he was so good with the kids and they really enjoyed spending time with him. The point was to encourage pride in how good a father he was, rather than getting him to do it through guilt or obligation.

Just some more thoughts on what our identies really consist of.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 29 September 2010 07:02:57PM 2 points [-]

Reminds me of this book on fixed vs. growth mindsets.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 September 2010 05:16:45AM 2 points [-]

Also, other people sometimes push you to be to person they think you are.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 24 September 2010 02:24:13AM 4 points [-]

It occurs to me that it might be useful to have an online library for LessWrong - a place to store books, articles, and other bits of information gathered from the internet, for reference and sharing.

It should be pretty easy to set that up using Evernote and an email account - Evernote allows files to be emailed to it, and will even sort those files into categories and apply tags to them if the subject line of the email is formatted correctly. The email account would act as a firewall - it would filter out spam, blacklist certain email addresses if necessary, and perhaps filter any email with an improperly formatted header to a separate file to be manually checked, and then forward everything else to Evernote, where it would be publicly accessible.

Downsides: It would need a moderator/librarian to fix any mistakes in tagging or categorizing, add new categories to the Evernote account, and update the email account's blacklist. Free Evernote accounts have a monthly upload limit of 40MB, which may be too small, and they also only allow a few file types (plain text, image, audio, and pdf) to be uploaded; a premium account allows 500MB to be uploaded per month and will accept any file type, but costs $5/month or $45/year, which would have to be coordinated.

There may be better ways of doing this; I'm suggesting Evernote mostly because I'm familiar with it. I'm willing to set it up, if there's sufficient interest, and possibly pay for the first year of premium Evernote, but I'm not willing to act as librarian.


Comment author: lsparrish 21 September 2010 04:45:39AM *  4 points [-]

Cognitive Biases Reinforced by Programming Supposing they exist, what are they? And what can we do about them?

Edit: Title changed.

Comment author: Morendil 21 September 2010 08:56:44PM 2 points [-]

Sure. One common one is "jumping to solutions".

For an experimental setup, imagine a situation where you describe a situation to a group of people from random professions vs. to a programmer; I would be very surprised if it didn't turn out that programmers start saying "you should do X and Y", with non-programmers asking more questions. The more "technical" the topic the greater I'd expect the difference to be.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 20 September 2010 10:18:37PM 4 points [-]

Has anyone compiled a list of one (two tops) sentence rationality heuristics drawn from LW canon into one place, ideally kinda-sorta thematically organized? I think this would be pretty cool to post on your refrigerator or for flyers... at the very least, useful for finding common themes and core ideas.

If nobody has done this then I will spend a few hours tomorrow digging through LW and related materials (yudkowsky.net) for quoteables and, quality and time permitting, post a paste a draft either here or in a top level post asking for more things to add.

I plan on blatantly ignoring inidication of authorship, even if the author has a cool name like Black Belt Bayesian. There are many reasons to do this and I think it's an understandable move.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 18 September 2010 12:09:38PM *  4 points [-]

On the edge of sleep I hypothesized that an average human could build an FAI if they were given lots of time and paper to write down a very long chain of "Why do I believe that?"s. I then realized that such an endeavor would very quickly end in an endless loop of infinitesimal utility and a lot of wasted trees. Moral: rationality is a lot harder than the application of a few heuristics. Metamoral: Applying that heuristic doesn't make it much easier.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 18 September 2010 10:06:53AM 4 points [-]

We often tell people to read the Sequences, but perhaps some people are better suited to jumping right into A Technical Explanation. Rereading it for the first time in awhile I was surprised at how much ground it covers, and how dense it is compared to the sequences.

That said, in my experience dense material is harder to learn, even if clearly explained. Naturally and cleverly repetitive material is best suited for learning. So in conclusion, uh, I dunno.

Comment author: Bongo 19 September 2010 05:02:58AM 9 points [-]

Prediction: a year after HPatMoR is finished, newbies will be as reluctant to read through it as they are relucant to read through the sequences now.

Comment author: jacob_cannell 20 September 2010 04:35:56PM *  8 points [-]

In my last post on Health Optimization, one commenter inadverntently brought up a topic which I find interesting, although it is highly contraversial - which is HIV/AIDS skepticism and rationality in science.

The particular part of that which I am interested in is proper levels of uncertainty and rationality errors in medical science.

I have some skepticism for the HIV/AIDS theory, perhaps on the level of say 20-30%. More concretely, I would roughly say I am only about 70% confident that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS, or 70% confident that the mainstream theory of HIV/AIDS is solid.

Most of that doubt comes from one particular flaw I in the current mainstream theory which I find particularly damning.

It is claimed that HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. However, the typical estimates of transmission rate are extremely low: 0.05% / 0.1% per insertive/receptive P/V sex act 0.065% / 0.5% per insertive/receptive P/A sex act

This data is from wikipedia - it lists a single paper as a source, but from what I recall this matches the official statistics from the CDC and what not.

For comparison, from the wikipedia entry on Gonorrhea, a conventional STD:

Men have a 20% risk of getting the infection from a single act of vaginal intercourse with a woman infected with gonorrhea. Women have a 60–80% risk of getting the infection from a single act of vaginal intercourse with a man infected with gonorrhea.[7]

So it would appear that HIV is roughly 100-500 times less sexually transmittable than a conventional STD like gonorrhea.

So in my mind this makes it technically impossible for HIV to be an STD. These transmission rates are so astronomically low that for it to spread from one infected person to an uninfected partner would take years and years of unprotected sex.

If you plug that it to a simulation, it just never can spread - even if everyone was having unprotected sex with a random stranger every single day, it would still require an unrealistic initial foothold in the population by other means before it could ever spread sexually.

And of course, if you plug in actual realistic data about frequency of unprotected sexual intercourse with strangers, it's just completely impossible. Bogus. It doesn't work. It can not be an STD.

As gonorrhea (and I presume other STDs) are hundreds of times more transmissable than HIV, their low rates in the population place bounds on HIV's sexual transmission.

Finally, these rates of transmission are so low that one should question the uncertainty and issues with false positives - how accurate are these numbers really?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 September 2010 03:48:03AM *  13 points [-]

A few years ago, I entered an online discussion with some outspoken HIV-AIDS skeptics who supported the theories of Peter Duesberg, and in the course of that debate, I read quite a bit of literature on the subject. My ultimate conclusion was that the HIV-AIDS link has been established beyond reasonable doubt after all; the entire web of evidence just seems too strong. For a good overview, I recommend the articles on the topic published in the Science magazine in December 1994:

Regarding your concerns about transmission probabilities, in Western countries, AIDS as an STD has indeed never been more than a marginal phenomenon among the heterosexual population. (Just think of the striking fact that, to my knowledge, in the West there has never been a catastrophic AIDS epidemic among female prostitutes, and philandering rock stars who had sex with thousands of groupies in the eighties also managed to avoid it.) As much as it’s fashionable to speak of AIDS as an “equal opportunity” disease, it’s clear that the principal mechanism of its sexual transmission in the First World has been sex between men, because of both the level of promiscuity and the nature of the sexual acts involved. (And it may well be that HIV among heterosexuals would be even rarer if it weren’t constantly reintroduced into the heterosexual population via women having sex with bisexual men, let alone if the sexual transmissions from intravenous drug users were also absent.)

On the other hand, when it comes to African AIDS, it’s hard to say anything reliably. The public discussions of First World AIDS are full of nonsense, but at least there are enough reliable raw data to make some sense out of the situation; in the case of Africa, however, we don’t know anything beyond what we’re told from people with highly suspect interests in the matter, either careerist or ideological, and even if there are some truthful and reasonable voices in the whole mess, it's impossible to filter them out in the sea of misinformation.

Also, here’s a pertinent comment I left on OB in a thread about the recent Medical Hypotheses affair: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/05/rip-medical-hypotheses.html#comment-447400

Comment author: cata 20 September 2010 06:03:48PM *  7 points [-]

I'd point out that nobody is claiming that HIV is exclusively sexually transmitted; there are other methods of transmitting it, such as infected needles. Also, Wikipedia cites a paper suggesting that those rates you mentioned are "4 to 10 times higher in low-income countries" and as high as 1.7% for anal intercourse.

I don't know whether or not these facts are sufficient to address your fundamental complaint, but they would make a pretty big difference.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 21 September 2010 01:39:50AM *  6 points [-]

However, the typical estimates of transmission rate are extremely low: 0.05% / 0.1% per insertive/receptive P/V sex act 0.065% / 0.5% per insertive/receptive P/A sex act

These transmission rates are so astronomically low that for it to spread from one infected person to an uninfected partner would take years and years of unprotected sex.

At an (unrealistically?) independent 0.5% chance per act, a 50% chance of transmission would require 139 sex acts — hardly "years and years".

(ETA: yes, unrealistically, according to this abstract found by Perplexed: "However, in comparison with nonparametric estimates, the model assuming constant infectivity appears to seriously underestimate the risk after very few contacts and to seriously overestimate the risk associated with a large number of contacts. Our results suggest that the association between the number of unprotected sexual contacts and the probability of infection is weak and highly inconsistent with constant per-contact infectivity.")

So in my mind this makes it technically impossible for HIV to be an STD.

At best, this can show that pandemic AIDS can't primarily result from sexual transmission of HIV, which is evidence that AIDS has causes other than HIV, but also that pandemic AIDS spreads through other means (as suggested here, e.g.).

As gonorrhea (and I presume other STDs) are hundreds of times more transmissable than HIV, their low rates in the population place bounds on HIV's sexual transmission.

If you're thinking of rates in the modern developed world, STDs are unsurprisingly more common when and where treatment is less available:

...in New York City, serologic testing in 1901 indicated that 5%-19% of all men had syphilitic infections. (source)

Studies of pregnant women in Africa have found rates for gonorrhea ranging from 0.02% in Gabon to 3.1% in Central African Republic and 7.8% in South Africa.... [syphilis] rates of 17.4% in Cameroon, 8.4% in South Africa, 6.7% in Central African Republic and 2.5% in Burkina Faso.... (source)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 September 2010 02:49:59PM 5 points [-]

So in my mind this makes it technically impossible for HIV to be an STD.

To say that this makes it not an STD is to misunderstand what an STD is.

An STD is not a disease whose transmission method is specialised to the act of copulation. It is merely a disease which is so difficult to transmit at all that only the most intimate of contact has any substantial chance of doing so. What is important about the sexual contact is not the sex, but the blood contact.

In HIV we have something that is so difficult to transmit that even conventional heterosexual intercourse has difficulty. Closer blood contact is required for a high chance of transmission, such as in anal intercourse (the intestinal lining is fragile and not adapted to contact with foreign bodies) or injection from infected needles. This has been known practically since the start from the epidemiology, before any pathogen was identified.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 22 September 2010 01:21:19AM 3 points [-]

Have you seen these two recent meta-analysis of HIV transmission rates? Comparing them to your numbers, it seems that Wikipedia/CDC have greatly understated the risk for P/A sex acts (due to using older studies?).

Also, according to this page, the transmission rates for genital herpes are similar to HIV for P/V sex acts, so AIDS is not the only STD to have such low transmission rates.

it would still require an unrealistic initial foothold in the population by other means before it could ever spread sexually

I think the conventional theory is that HIV established an initial foothold by means such as needle sharing, blood transfusions, and P/A sex acts. That seems quite realistic to me. Why do you think it's unrealistic?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2010 08:21:37PM *  3 points [-]

Note that in general low-transmission rates aren't that good an argument against it. First of all, a lot of transmission in the US occurred through other forms, especially early in the epidemic (intravenous needle sharing and transfusion of infected blood being two major ones). As others have noted the transmission issue is also generally higher for homosexual rather than heterosexual intercourse.

Frankly, the thing that I most don't understand about people who are skeptical about the HIV-AIDS link is how one explains the fact that anti-virals tailored to deal with HIV work. Even the first-gen treatments such as AZT were used due to the biochemistry of HIV (often targeting reverse transcriptase). And they worked in delaying the onset of AIDS and worked for giving people with AIDS higher life-expectancy. I don't see how one can easily reconcile that with HIV not being the cause of AIDS and I've never heard anything remotely resembling a coherent explanation about this.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 September 2010 10:08:06PM 3 points [-]

I have some skepticism for the HIV/AIDS theory, perhaps on the level of say 20-30%.

It takes courage to voice a low but not negligible degree of doubt in a emotionally salient mainstream position. I would expect it to result in almost as much social punishment as in the case of outright denial. (Emotional backlash isn't good at math.)

More concretely, I would roughly say I am only about 70% confident that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS, or 70% confident that the mainstream theory of HIV/AIDS is solid.

I am surprised that those two confidences happen to be the same. Is it not a distinct possibility that HIV is, in fact, the sole cause of AIDS even when the mainstream theory is itself rubbish? (For example, if the theory got important details such as mechanism completely wrong.)

Comment author: Alicorn 21 September 2010 10:11:59PM 4 points [-]

(Emotional backlash isn't good at math.)

I like this sentence.

Comment author: Yvain 19 September 2010 12:51:05AM *  8 points [-]

A piece of Singularity-related fiction with a theory for your evaluation: The Demiurge's Elder Brother

Comment author: humpolec 20 September 2010 07:23:34PM *  6 points [-]

I'm not sure if non-interference is really the best thing to precommit to - if we encounter a pre-AI civilization that still has various problems, death etc., maybe what {the AI they would have build} would have liked more is for us to help them (in a way preserving their values).

If a superintelligence discovers a concept of value-preserving help (or something like CEV?) that is likely to be universal, shouldn't it precommit to applying it to all encountered aliens?

Comment author: [deleted] 26 September 2010 02:02:19AM 7 points [-]

So, given that we've got a high concentration of technical people around here, maybe someone can answer this for me:

Could it ever be possible to do some kind of counter-data mining?

Everybody has some publicly-available info on the internet -- information that, in general, we actually want to be publicly available. I have an online presence, sometimes under my real name and sometimes under aliases, and I wouldn't want to change that.

But data mining is, of course, a potential privacy nightmare. There are algorithms that can tell if you're gay from your facebook page, and reassemble your address and social security number from aggregating apparently innocuous web content. There's even a tool (www.recordedfuture.com) that purportedly helps clients like the CIA predict subjects' future movements. But so far, I've never heard of attempts to make data mining harder for the snoops. I'm not talking about advice like "Don't put anything online you wouldn't want in the newspaper." I'm interested in technical solutions -- the equivalent of cryptography.

It's a pipe dream, but it might not be impossible. Here's Wikipedia background, with good additional references, for nonlinear dimensionality reduction techniques, which is one of my academic interests. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonlinear_dimensionality_reduction) These techniques involve taking a cloud of points in a high-dimensional space, and deciphering the low-dimensional manifold on which they lie. In other words, extracting salient information from data. And there are standard manifolds where various techniques are known to fail -- it's hard for algorithms to recognize the "swiss roll," for instance.

These hard cases are disappointments for the data miner, but they ought to be opportunities for the counter-data miner, right? Could it be possible to exploit the hard cases to make it more difficult for the snoops? One practical example of something like this already exists: the distorted letters in a CAPTCHA are "hard cases" for automated image recognition software.

Does anybody have thoughts on this?

Comment author: Anonymous0146 26 September 2010 09:18:51PM 4 points [-]

I write data mining software professionally, and one weakness that comes to mind is the deduplication process. In order to combine data from different sources, the software has to determine which entries correspond to the same person. It does this by looking for common elements with a low false positive rate. If two records have the same phone number, email address, site plus account name, social security number, or name-address pair, they are almost certainly the same person, so they will be combined. This relation is transitive, so if A has the same phone number as B and B has the same email address as C, then A, B, and C will all be assumed to be the same person.

You can subvert this by creating records which map as equivalent to two different people, such as by having one person's phone number and another person's email address. If a data source contains too many entries like this, it's useless unless there's an easy way to filter them out. If a data source contains just a few entries like this, data miners are likely to get confused. Note that this is not necessarily a good idea, since having a computerized bureaucracy be confused about your identity can have very inconvenient consequences. It is also possible to detect and defeat this strategy, by looking for deduplications with strange results, but this is tricky in practice, since people often really do have multiple names (maiden names, alternate spellings), phone numbers, email addresses etc.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 September 2010 04:45:54AM 2 points [-]

But data mining is, of course, a potential privacy nightmare. There are algorithms that can tell if you're gay from your facebook page, and reassemble your address and social security number from aggregating apparently innocuous web content.

Really? Where can I find said algorithms? Knowing how they work would obviously be a useful way of thwarting them.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 September 2010 05:11:55AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: gwern 26 September 2010 02:33:54AM 2 points [-]

My general thought is that so little data is needed to identify you, that the dataset can be enormously noisy and still identify you. And if your fake data is just randomly generated, isn't that all it is, noise?

(I saw a paper about medical datasets, I think, that showed that you couldn't anonymize the data successfully and still have a useful dataset; I don't have it handy, but it's not hard to find people saying things like, with the Netflix dataset, that it can't be done: http://33bits.org/2010/03/15/open-letter-to-netflix/ )

Comment author: [deleted] 26 September 2010 02:41:41AM 2 points [-]

I've heard about the medical datasets.

Noise is a pretty interesting thing, and the possibility of "denoising" depends a lot on the kind of noise. White noise is the easiest to get rid of; malicious noise, which isn't random but targeted to be "worst-case," can thwart denoising methods that were designed for white noise.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 September 2010 02:01:02AM *  3 points [-]

Regina Spektor wrote a song about CEV called "The Calculation". She seems to agree with Shane Legg that it may well be impossible, but she appears to think there's hope. YouTube video here.


You went into the kitchen cupboard
Got yourself another hour
And you gave
Half of it to me
We sat there looking at the faces
Of these strangers in the pages
'Til we knew 'em mathematically

They were in our minds
Until forever
But we didn't mind
We didn't know better

So we made our own computer out of macaroni pieces
And it did our thinking while we lived our lives
It counted up our feelings
And divided them up even
And it called that calculation perfect love

Didn't even know that love was bigger
Didn't even know
That love was so, so
Hey Hey Hey

Hey this fire it's burnin'
Burnin' us up

So I suppose she's critical of naive aggregation methods for preference fulfillment.

Comment author: ata 28 September 2010 04:44:40AM 3 points [-]

So we made our own computer out of macaroni pieces

So that's the secret of achieving true AI!

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 September 2010 04:47:41AM *  4 points [-]

Analog computing via food. This is the dawn of the non-Bayes era!

And this is what I call the Lemon Glazing Fallacy, which generates an argument for a fully arbitrary New Idea in AI using the following template:

  • Major premise: All previous AI efforts failed to yield true intelligence.
  • Minor premise: All previous AIs were built without delicious lemon glazing.
  • Conclusion: If we build AIs with delicious lemon glazing, they will work.
Comment author: ata 23 September 2010 01:45:22AM *  3 points [-]

Any other LW people interested in going to the Rally to Restore Sanity? I was thinking it would be fun to have a group of people there advocating Advanced Sanity (e.g. various LW/Bayesian themes). And some LW concepts ("Politics Is The Mind-Killer", "Make Beliefs Pay Rent", etc.) are unusual and wise-sounding and correct enough that they'd probably be good conversation-starters as sign slogans (...and I also made this nice E. T. Jaynes poster).

Comment author: MartinB 21 September 2010 01:26:14AM 3 points [-]

If you are not a programmer, please tell us who you are, and how you ended up here. It sometimes seems like programmers are more likely to end up here, so it might be interesting to see who else does, and how. A programmer here is someone who knows how to do it, does it, and possibly likes it - be it for professional or private reasons.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 20 September 2010 06:13:59AM 3 points [-]

Is anyone else familiar with the situation of having a definite research agenda, being unable to get financial support for even a part of it, and so having to choose to do something irrelevant just to stay alive? That last step seems to be particularly agonizing. It's like having to choose the form of torture to which you will be subjected (with starvation or homelessness being the default if you refuse to choose).

I have no doubt there are people here who have wanted to do research at some time, and either compromised or had to settle for non-research jobs. But I don't often see the experience of being shut out described as a thing of horror, which is more or less how it is for me. I can't tell if this is just a passing stage before one resigns oneself to the new situation, or if the intensity of the awfulness is unusual in my case.

Comment author: Larks 18 September 2010 06:35:22AM *  3 points [-]

I posted a link to The Meaning of Life in response to a question on yahoo. It seems we possible we could gain traffic, and help people, by answering other questions in a similar way.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 September 2010 01:43:31AM 3 points [-]

The Life Cycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang is sf which raises a number of questions of interest at LW-- in particular, it's about human relationships with non-self-optimizing AI.

At this point, the story is only available as a slightly expensive but possibly collectible little hardcover, but I'll estimate a 90%+ chance that it will be in at least one of the "Best of Sf" collections next year.

I'm going to rot13 specifics in case anyone wants to read it without even the mildest of spoilers.

Sbe rknzcyr, jung qb lbh qb vs gur NV lbh bja naq ner yblny gb jnagf gb orpbzr n pbecbengvba?

Gur uryy jvgu NVf gbeghevat uhzna hcybnqf-- ubj tbbq qbrf gur frphevgl arrq gb or gb xrrc uhzna orvatf sebz gbeghevat hcybnqf?

Naq gurer'f engure n ybg nobhg jung pbafrag zrnaf jura lbh be fbzrbar ryfr unf npprff gb lbhe erjneq znc.

Comment author: ata 26 September 2010 02:12:14AM *  2 points [-]

I'm trying to defeat my bad excuses for cryocrastinating, such as confusion about how to decide what to sign up for. (A few less-bad excuses will still remain, such as not currently having any income at all, but I'm working on remedying that.) Other than Alcor's included standby service, what significant differences are there between Alcor and CI (and are there any other US cryonics providers I should be considering)? What accounts for the big difference in pricing? Does my being a young healthy person affect anything relevant to this choice?

And if I go with Alcor and therefore have the choice between neuro and full-body, what makes more sense now? Is it more than negligibly likely that any important information is stored outside the brain?

Comment author: wedrifid 26 September 2010 05:13:39AM 3 points [-]

Is it more than negligibly likely that any important information is stored outside the brain?

Your soul is stored in your spleen. If you lose that then the best you can hope for is to be restored as a p-zombie. You will also lose the majority of your midichlorians. Imagine it, you are stuck as a head in a jar and you don't even have your ability to force grip!

More seriously there is some information stored outside of your brain. Your motor skills obviously. A lot of the skill in weight lifting for example is in compensating for and overriding the reflexive reaction to your movement. But that's no problem. Just tell the FAI that you had elite bow hunting and nunchaku skills and you'll be set.

Information that could be of relevance to your personality is the component of your reactions and emotional experience that is determined by your posture and physiology. Your body changes how your feel, and vice versa. Then there are the hormone secreting organs, the function of which fundamentally alter how you behave... A lot of this could be reconstructed reasonably well based on evidence in your head. Including, for example, your memories of what you were like, reverse engineered with compensation for any evident biases. But something will be lost, however trivial.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 24 September 2010 04:46:41PM 2 points [-]

I found a hardware bug in my brain, and I need help, please.

Dan Savage once advised an anxious 15-year-old boy to stop worrying about getting his 15-year-old self laid and go do interesting, social, skill-improving things so that it would be easy to get his 21-year-old self laid. IMHO, this is good advice, and can be applied to any number of goals besides sex: love, friendship, career, fame, wealth, whatever floats your boat.

My problem is that whenever I try to follow advice like that, I find myself irrationally convinced that one or two days of skill-building are enough, and that I should start investing significant resources in putting myself on the market immediately, even though I know from experience that this is likely to (a) not be useful, (b) not be fun, and (c) probably even be a little depressing.

Usually I am good at learning from my mistakes, but I am surprised to find that I am consistently failing to learn from my experience here. Although this is not literally what I am doing, a crude caricature of my schedule goes something like this: Day 1, I go to the gym; day 2, I go to craigslist and strike out; day 3, I go to the gym; day 4, I go to craigslist and strike out, and so on for weeks.

No tips on how to use Craig's List, please; the problem is not domain-specific knowledge about marketing. I know this beause when I have the relevant skills, I'm pretty successful at finding love/sex/friendship/career/fame/money.

I'm looking for advice on how to really convince myself that I need to build skills for a long time before marketing myself.

Comment author: Alicorn 24 September 2010 04:48:04PM 4 points [-]

Go meta: build the skill of building skills for a long time.

Comment author: teageegeepea 22 September 2010 03:59:31PM 2 points [-]

I don't know if it's already been discussed here, but Andrew Gelman & Cosma Shalizi's paper on the philosophy of statistics and Bayesianism sounds like it might be of interest to many here.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 18 September 2010 08:31:18AM 2 points [-]

At the limit of unlimited resources, where isn't Bayesianism the ideal epistemology? Where is it silent? Where does it lead one astray? Is Bayes the avatar of the void at the limit of perfection?

Comment author: blogospheroid 18 September 2010 08:25:32AM 2 points [-]

Eliezer had written that the two most important mathematical problems were the friendly goal itself that a self modifying program would have and goal stability under self modification.

Now, a useful perspective I have often used in the past is to see incentive structures and see who has the motivation to take a crack at a problem. Now, goal stability seems to be a very very useful problem to solve for many institutions. Almost all of us have heard of institutional missions getting diluted and even seen it when people change in a firm. National governments, corporates (especially from the shareholder's perspective), pension funds, n number of foundations, all could benefit from good goal stability, right?

Is the lack of research into goal stability just due to a disbelief in AI? Or is the fact that large corporates already have a strong and stable goal in profits, that further research into goal stability is not occurring in the world?

But the top foundations of the world also seem pretty big enough to support such research. And their goals are multiple and complex, not reducible to profit.

Comment author: whpearson 18 September 2010 09:56:50AM 4 points [-]

Have you ever followed electoral reform debates? There is a distinct pattern, people out of power want change, people in power do not. They are happy with the status quo. Only the people in power have the power to enact change. So change tends not to happen.

That is changes to the goal system rarely happen, especially if they might disadvantage the incumbents.

I have ideas that I'm going to try out. However they are more to do with acquiring feedback from other people outside of the organisation, which would foster goal stability iff the feedback from outside the system does. I.e. if the feedback came from donors, that consistently wanted a charity to do one thing, it would keep the charity on track.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 18 September 2010 01:46:26AM 2 points [-]

A reasonably good (if polemic) article about common misunderstandings of Buddhism and meditation, and what they're really about. A quotation: "Mindfulness is the natural scientific method of the mind. A scientist brings a microscope, a meditator brings mindfulness. We need to realize that we live in a state of deep assumption about the way the mind works, which then extends to our understanding of the world. We rarely experience anything directly, without first slowing down and paying attention. A scientist shouldn't make statements based on unsubstantiated claims, and a meditator shouldn't try to change anything until mindfulness is decently established. Whenever we try to change something before we understand it, our attempted transformation actually comes from habit and assumption, not wisdom. Solutions that come from habit, as Albert Einstein pointed out, just end up reinforcing the problem. That's called samsara, due to the always circular structure of habitual logic."

Comment author: Relsqui 17 September 2010 03:10:39AM 2 points [-]

I'm new here. Why is this thread a two-parter?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 September 2010 03:27:57AM 4 points [-]

It's an annoyance to deal with huge threads, so we have a convention of starting a new thread when there are about 500 comments on an otd thread.

Comment author: Relsqui 17 September 2010 03:28:39AM 2 points [-]

Makes sense. Thanks.

Comment author: erratio 17 September 2010 06:03:11AM 3 points [-]

Idle observation:

Clippy gets consistently voted up on a lot of his comments because we find him amusing, and rarely gets downvoted because very few of his comments are substantive. We will end up looking extremely silly to new members if he gets enough karma to put him into the list of top contributors.

So... I guess it depends whether we pitch ourselves as shiny fun community or serious rationalist Singularitarians as to whether this is actually an issue.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 September 2010 06:58:08AM *  15 points [-]

Clippy gets downvoted quite a lot too (although less and less... he's learning!) He also makes quality comments, including the expression of some insights that would be punished if made by a 'human'. Lesswrong humans sometimes try to bully each other into pretending to be naive utilitarians instead of rational agents with their own agenda.

I guess it depends whether we pitch ourselves as shiny fun community or serious rationalist Singularitarians as to whether this is actually an issue.

This is not a singularitarian website (although rationalists are often singularitarians.) Also note that we spend a lot of time here discussing fanfiction that is written by the lead researcher in the SIAI. We cannot credibly claim 'sensibleness' or sophistication.

Comment author: erratio 17 September 2010 08:49:56AM 3 points [-]

He also makes quality comments, including the expression of some insights that would be punished if made by a 'human'.

Yes, but the vast majority of his comments concern his paperclip agenda. If a larger proportion of his comments were insightful rather than just funny I would be happier, but as it is his noise:quality ratio is rather high.

This is not a singularitarian website (although rationalists are often singularitarians.)

A significant part of the Sequencess is made of posts that argue for a singularity in the near future, with complete seriousness. A large number of us are not singularitarians but I don't know whether I would say the community itself isn't singularitarian.

Also note that we spend a lot of time here discussing fanfiction that is written by the lead researcher in the SIAI. We cannot credibly claim 'sensibleness' or sophistication.

We also have lots of posts about more serious topics. Having fun threads where we discuss HP and Twilight fanfiction doesn't mean that the community as a whole isn't trying to present itself at least somewhat seriously. And most top-level posts that are openly silly or non-substantive get heavily downvoted.

As an example of the somewhat serious nature of the community, there seem to be a fair number of people who have had personal epiphanies (mostly about atheism) that have had a huge impact on their life as a result of reading the Sequences.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 September 2010 09:02:40AM 7 points [-]

A significant part of the Sequencess is made of posts that argue for a singularity in the near future, with complete seriousness.

On the other hand in the early months of lesswrong the subject was explicitly banned. That was part of an effort to ensure that blog identified as about rationality and not "singularity with rationality used to support it".

We also have lots of posts about more serious topics. Having fun threads where we discuss HP and Twilight fanfiction doesn't mean that the community as a whole isn't trying to present itself at least somewhat seriously. And most top-level posts that are openly silly or non-substantive get heavily downvoted.

See the discussion on clown suits. I included scare quotes around 'sensibleness' deliberately.

I don't think Clippy reduces the quality of comments on the blog and I also don't think that discouraging Clippy for the purpose of appearing sophisticated would increase the quality of comments on the blog.

Comment author: erratio 17 September 2010 09:55:37AM 6 points [-]

You've convinced me on this point

Comment author: cata 17 September 2010 04:24:43PM 8 points [-]

No problem; just relabel "Top Contributors" as "Top Humans."

Comment author: steven0461 17 September 2010 06:24:00AM 8 points [-]

With Clippy at 1k and the top 10 at 6k, it's just way too improbable to worry about.

Comment author: MatthewW 17 September 2010 05:13:25PM 3 points [-]

A simple fix would be to not bother publishing a top contributors list.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 18 September 2010 02:26:53AM *  5 points [-]

I'm not sure this is a good idea. If there's something that empirically makes us look like we're not being rational we should deal with that issue. Hiding that data is not a good solution.

However, I do have to wonder what in general the point of having the top contributors is. I'm not even sure that total karma is a useful metric of much since one person could have much higher quality comments than another but most much more rarely and yet the person with high quality comments presumably should receive more attention and their comments should be more closely paid attention to. It might be nice to have a display of average karma, not just total karma. However, this would still I suspect give Clippy a fairly high karma, so if you object to Clippy this won't solve anything. Also note that many upvotes are are not connected to the quality of remarks in any strong sense. See for example this comment by Eliezer that is now at +53 which is presumably connected to the unique status that Eliezer has as the founder of LW.